Dir. Peter Sollett. US. 2008. 89mins.

The highly anticipated second feature of the New York-based independent Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) valiantly attempts to both enliven and subvert the tendencies and predictability of the teenage romantic comedy - although the whole never quite registers as forcefully as individual pieces.

The movie’s antecedents are unmistakable, ranging from Martin Scorsese’s absurdist and abrasive black comedy After Hours to the anarchic, freewheeling energy of Superbad and Risky Business. Sollett demonstrates considerable talent with actors, but unlike his often remarkable debut feature, there is very little emotional investment in the material or a strong shaping personality. As a consequence the new work never attains the lyrical grace or observational subtleties of the two finest works of the genre: Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything or Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused.

The compelling cast, particularly the standout title players Cera (Juno) and emerging star Dennings, strong production values and eclectic soundtrack provide a considerable cache for the youth market. The strongest play is likely in ancillary. Internationally, the prospects are less secure.

Adapted from the novel by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Lorene Scafaria’s script is very episodic, resulting in a patchy and unregulated rhythm that feels highly segmented rather than intricately layered. The director mixes screwball farce, gay burlesque and the scatological; the jarring styles and discordant tones never quite achieve the lift and insouciance that the material requires.

The story is structured as a long night’s journey, centered on the uncertain and complicated emotional and romantic binds involving music enthusiasts Nick (Cera) and Norah (Dennings). As in a classic screwball farce, Norah is an unstable force of nature and an heiress of sorts. The story is set around the lead characters’ quest to discover the Manhattan location of a legendary band’s surprise gig. The byplay of the two leads is compelling and never less than watchable, although the tentative romantic attraction of the two lead characters plays against a competing romantic roundelay of the beautiful girl (Dziena), who has discarded Nick, the sodden misadventures of Norah’s best friend (Graynor) and the untangling of her own relationship to a rival musician (Baruchel).

Like Juno writer Diablo Cody, Scafaria has a facility for teenage slang; the movie is strongest at delineating the subtle class, cultural and often toxic exchanges that reflect character and attitudes. Dennings is a particular find who is beautiful, expressive and very quick. Cera is also good, but he has also done variations of this part twice before (Superbad, Juno) and there is less a sense of discovery. To his credit, Sollett spends a lot of time with the bit and secondary players, but the extreme comedy of embarrassment involving Graynor and the outre sexual politics of Nick’s gay bandmates feels forced and somewhat inauthentic.

Production companies
Mandate Pictures
Depth of Field Production

US distributor
Sony Pictures

Executive producers
Joe Drake
Nathan Kahane
Adam Brightman

Kerry Kohansky
Chris Weitz
Paul Weitz
Andrew Miano

Lorene Scafaria
Based on the novel by
Rachel Cohn and
David Levithan

Tom Richmond

Main Cast
Michael Cera
Kat Dennings
Alexis Dziena
Ari Graynor
Aaron Yoo
Jay Baruchel
Rafi Gavron