Let's face it: The comparisons were painfully inevitable on this one, folks. "Juno" was ubiquitous, improbably so. It seemed to have cheated the system - an awkward teenage pregnancy comedy equipped with a quippy McSweeneys vernacular and Sonic Youth b-sides earn a Best Picture nomination? And then came "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," and it felt like dŽjˆ vu for something you hadn't even had time to forget. Same male lead who plays some sort of guitar. Trade out female lead for best friend of female lead. Same indie-music sensibility. New city. New expensive cameos.
There did appear to be obvious premise differences. "Juno," as the cycle of pregnancy would dictate, takes place in nine months, whereas the antics of "Nick and Norah" are packed into one zany New York night. "Juno" was about a pair of best friends who turned into a couple. Nick and Norah is about a pair of virtual strangers connected only through a mixtape who meet and help each other get over their respective exes. But the platform for it to become "Juno 2: Juno's Baby Daddy Goes To The Big Apple and Knocks Up Juno's Best Friend To The Sounds Of Vampire Weekend" was certainly there.
And then around halfway through the film, something strange happened. Not only did they become entirely separate entities, but somehow Nick and Norah became a more effective display of the awkwardness of teenage sex than the movie that became a cultural phenomenon by documenting the awkwardness of teenage sex.
The film still has its flaws. It seemed to give up any sense of character development for...shenanigans, I guess. The only character who seemed truly developed was Cera's, and he still seemed to be playing himself. The rest either seemed to only establish a basic archetype. And maybe it's just the music worshipper in me, but ending the film on the line "This is it" felt about as subtle as ending the movie with Michael Cera saying, "We're so New York scene, we can naturally work it into conversational context on a Subway escalator." And to Juno's credit, the young indie relationship that caused that little potbelly felt much warmer and more plausible than this uber-awk Michael Cera relationship incarnation.
But these shortcomings didn't weigh down the film. After seeing the trailer, mentally connecting the teenage archetype web diagram and checking off the necessary indie-cred bands on the soundtrack, I was ready to sit through a virtual Mad Lib of "Juno"-vernaculared "Garden State" meets "Superbad" to a Vampire Weekend soundtrack in the big city. And the beginning of the film didn't dispel any of those notions (it even started with a abbreviation-filled rambling phone conversation much like the most painful Ellen Page monologue in the "Juno" intro). But then, as the film developed, it didn't digress along that path at all. It got weird in a surprisingly good way.
Once we stumble past the hurdle that Michael Cera's eventual love interest (Kat Dennings) comes across as only slightly less bitchy than his excessively bitchy ex-love interest, we get to see (or for a brief moment hear in soundbooth style audio form) the awkwardness that encapsulates teenage sexuality that was largely just implied in "Juno." And even the moments that are reminiscent of other films still effectively add to this dynamic. Most notably, the scene where Cera's cheating ex-girlfriend went all Whitesnake on the hood of his car while dancing for him to "You Sexy Thing" had levels of awkward hilarity reminiscent of the drunken bedroom blow J scene in "Superbad." But that didn't make it any less funny in the moment.
And while these moments of uncomfortable intimacy may be the most compelling element of the film, the aforementioned shenanigans are easy to get caught up in. The two key purposes of the adventure are to find Norah's drunk best friend Caroline and find the secret show location for the ever-elusive fictitious band Where's Fluffy? Now, it becomes evident fairly early on that both of these endeavors are primarily plot devices to force Nick and Norah to spend some time together in a small Yugo (not that there's really any other kind of Yugo, I guess). But Ari Graynor plays such a fun sloppy drunk that you never really question it while it's happening. Instead you are simply allowed to get caught up and escape on this ride through a nighttime New York that is brimming with excitement and potential. You get to let the indie love story you thought you were going to see take a literal backseat to the all-night escape you never thought you were looking for but realized you needed all along.