Dazed and Confused meets Clerks in this endearing coming-of-age story. The plot line is hardly novel—a geeky slacker named Crispin (Todd Knaack, who also co-wrote) and his friends spend the summer lazily searching for a girlfriend, smoking too much weed, and contemplating their future. Yet despite the familiarity of the story, Northwood Pie is a refreshingly genuine indie. It takes nostalgic inspiration from filmmakers such as Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith and translates it to the present day, capturing our era with clever precision.
Crispin finds a glimmer of hope when he gets a job at the humble, local pizza place Northwood Pizza. He makes friends with his colourful co-workers, particularly the cool Sierra (Annika Foster). Sierra’s characterisation sometimes feels very Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but Foster dispels it with her incredibly grounded and electrifying presence—so vastly different from Knaack. As Crispin, Knaack is too bland, never allowing you to fully empathise with the confused community college burnout. Sierra and Crispin’s interactions have a naturalistic ease rarely seen in most films.
Director/co-writer Jay Salahi skillfully captures the intricacies of modern dating—the unspoken rules about texting, the hidden meanings behind Instagram likes. The boys’ idiocy about women is amusing without being sexist or juvenile. There are also lots of pop culture references, typically obnoxious in this genre, but Salahi finds a way to subtly make them an organic part of the characters, particularly in the sly shots of Crispin’s Harry Potter and Star Wars paraphernalia scattered around his room.
What Northwood Pie does best is show the ins and outs of working a mundane service job: stirring the sauce, kneading the pies, folding pizza boxes, making deliveries. These tasks are filmed in lively montages set to rock music, giving more of a buzz to these routine duties. Shooting on the actual location of the real-life pizza parlour in Irvine, California is part of what makes this film so lovingly scrappy. The tight shots in the tiny, cramped workspace makes the viewer feel like a part of Crispin’s prosaic work day.
Occasionally, Northwood Pie over relies on background music to fill the sound design, but more often than not the score poignantly amplifies emotional moments, such as the hard rock music when Crispin witnesses something unsettling at a party. Some of the visuals are too over-washed or too dark and could have been more rich in colour, but they are also reminiscent of an Instagram filter, adding to the film’s very contemporary sensibility.
The ending is a bit ham-fisted, pushing the idea that Crispin has always had this secret potential and drive to escape his hometown when Knaack has barely given us any indication in his performance. Despite the lack of a solid protagonist, the touching themes about moving on and cutting ties with our childhood still resonate. The film really understands our generation’s struggle to try and “be someone” when we may not even know what that someone is, or we want to be someone different than what society tells us we should be. Sierra’s speech about suburban ennui—is life nothing more than sitting behind a desk, in your car, on your couch?—is particularly moving. An enjoyable slice of millennial life, Northwood Pie is a breezy, homespun spin on the classic tale of growing up.
Northwood Pie is available to stream on Amazon Prime and to rent on VOD now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.