It's a set-up only slightly more gimmicky than the book's device of alternating chapters from each protagonist's-and each author's-point of view. The devices that end up keeping Nick and Norah together for the rest of the night-alternately, tracking down Norah's drunk friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and finding a super-secret concert by their mutual favorite hip band-also could have ended up feeling forced. But a meet-cute rarely rings hollow if the chemistry ends up working, and there's clearly a zing between these two sarcastic puppy-dogs. Cera brings both instant likeability and a sly intelligence to Nick, while Dennings matches him in both categories.
Nick & Norah is at its best when the two stars are tiptoeing their way through their initial connection. He gives them room to riff off of Lorene Scafaria's screenplay, providing plenty of tart one-liners like Nick's response to how safe it is leaving the passed-out Caroline with Nick's gay bandmates ("If anyone is going to get raped in that van, it's going to be a guy."). Sollett knows when to back off and watch them getting to know one another, and he crafts one beautifully discrete sequence involving Nick and Norah's initial ... um, physical moment together. With Sollett at the reins, everything about this nascent romance feels genuine.
He's not quite as successful when the plot drifts to peripheral matters. For a while the inebriated Caroline is out wandering on her own, leading to some broad slapstick like the ongoing saga of Caroline's resilient piece of chewing gum. There's the kind of teen-centered comedy an audience probably expects, and there's the kind that Peter Sollett is comfortable working with-and they're not always the same thing.
Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Alexis Dziena. Directed by Peter Sollett. Rated PG-13.