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VOD Review: North Hollywood

July 23, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

An 18-year-old kid named Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) has ambitions of becoming a pro skateboarder in skater and filmmaker Mikey Alfred’s feature directorial debut North Hollywood, which shares some common DNA with Jonah Hill’s 2018 gem Mid90s.

Alfred served as a producer on that film, which also featured McLaughlin, who has now been upgraded to lead, as part of its ensemble cast. The young star of Mid90s, Sunny Suljic, even has a couple of scenes here as another skater. This is all to say that North Hollywood feels like a spiritual successor to Hill’s film, and while it ultimately doesn’t hit quite as hard, it is still mostly enjoyable in its own low-stakes kind of way.

The loose, semi-autobiographical story follows Michael as he tries to realize his dreams of turning his post-high school days at the skate park into a career. This causes tensions with his working class father (Vince Vaughn, in an effective dramatic role) who wants him to go to college, or at the very least follow in his footsteps and get an honest job working in construction.

The main conflict of the plot comes from the strain that is put on Michael’s friendship with his childhood buddies Jay (Nico Hiraga) and Adolf (Aramis Hudson), who have formed a skating trio together defined by their matching Converse sneakers, when he starts excluding them to hang out with a couple of pro skaters. Michael is afraid his ride-or-die friends will cramp his style with the “cool kids” and hurt his chances of being noticed by sponsors. Another hitch in their friendship is Michael’s pursuit of his crush Rachel (Miranda Cosgrove), who is going away to university at the end of the summer.

North Hollywood is consistently enjoyable, even if, like its protagonist, its own ambitions as a film feel somewhat low. It’s often just about the vibe, and for the most part that’s fine, but there are some aspects of the story and certain relationships that I wish had been explored more. The strained friendship between Michael and Adolf in particular, which comes to define the film’s last act, feels like it should have come into sharper focus earlier on, and the rivalry between the two needed more development.

The film follows the pretty standard beats of a coming of age story, but the naturalistic performances, and some resonant themes, carry it through. In its best moments, North Hollywood does an effective job of exploring relatable themes about rivalries forming between childhood friends, the emotional process of coming to terms with them surpassing you and moving on without you, and not being able to let go of your childhood dreams.

Many of these themes are solidified in a poignant interaction between McLaughlin and Vaughn, that offers a moment of raw emotion and comes to define the picture. Alfred does a fine job of giving the film a sort of hazy retro vibe that is evocative of the California skater culture it aims to represent, matched by a solid soundtrack that mixes cuts of both classic Doo-wop and hip-hop. For fans of the film Mid90s in particular, North Hollywood warrants a recommendation, and it’s fun to spend a bit more time in a similar world.

North Hollywood is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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