Some films are content to give you a slice of life. Northwood Pie gives you the whole greasy pizza.
Set in relentlessly normal Irvine, Calif., it’s the amiable, slightly stoned story of a gang of low-achieving friends who spend their days avoiding work at the local pizzeria and cutting class at the nearby community college.
Their goal? Just getting through the day hassle-free.
Still, occasionally small questions pop up. Actually, for these gently awkward guys, it’s the one eternal question, endlessly debated over lunch and a smoke: Does this girl like me, and if so, what do I do?
Also, you gonna finish that calzone?
There’s not a lot else going on in the brief (barely over 70 minutes), micro-budgeted (probably financed by couch change) Northwood Pie. That’s mostly by design.
Essentially, this is a “hang-out film” – a movie like Kevin Smith’s Clerks, or Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! that invites us to flop down on the futon and join some friends as they goof off, and occasionally goof on each other.
Like most of the movies in this comedy sub-genre, the ambience is strictly dorky, horny male (there are a number of Swingers references). Like all of them, your enjoyment will depend on how much you enjoy that sort of film, and these particular people.
Unfortunately, it’s a little hit or miss. Some of the actors look too old for college, and a few of the characters aren’t developed much beyond one-word prompts like “hothead.”
Star Todd Knaak, who also co-wrote, is at least modestly sympathetic as our mellow hero Crispin, and Annika Foster brings some depth to the pretty co-worker who’s inexplicably interested in him. As the gang’s handsome ladies’ man, Trevor Larson is another stand-out.
Director and co-author Jay Salahi also gets the most out of his limited locations, while editor Alex Ivany cuts things together well, starting with an opening sequence that moves smoothly from one worker to another as pies go from bland balls of dough to just-delivered dinners.
Unlike those pizzas, though, this movie skimps a bit on the ingredients.
Going all the way back to American Graffiti, hang-out films still need some structure, and a conflict or two. They may take place over a single summer night or an entire school year. They can focus on a character’s romance or career ambition. But even if the characters seem aimless, the films need a plan.
Like its heroes, though, Northwood Pie can’t quite get up the energy. The characters in Diner and Superbad weren’t exactly go-getters either, but at least they wanted something, even if it was just to get laid. The guys here mostly just want to get by.
That might be fine if they themselves were more colorful, prone to the kind of pop-culture rants that made Clerks a cult hit. But they’re even too laid-back for that. Their bedroom walls are covered in movie posters, but actually having opinions about things? Yeah, whatever, dude.
Unfortunately their too-cool-for-school attitude ends up leaving the audience a little lukewarm; because nobody on screen seems to care much what happens, it’s hard for us to. Everyone here is amiable enough; there’s not a villain in the bunch. But maybe that’s the problem.
Like its hero, Northwood Pie is completely inoffensive, and occasionally, almost accidentally, charming. But like the pies he serves up, it can feel a little warmed over. And all in all, it’d probably be better with a bit less herb, and a lot more spice.