There are plenty of movies following the lackadaisical days of early twentysomething men who like to say “fuck” while seeking life’s meaning, a girlfriend or both. It is often the case that these movies, which usually cite Kevin Smith’s Clerks or Richard Linklater’s Slacker — both almost 30 years old now — as heavy influences, and it inevitably shows in the form of trite dialogue about geek topics that were niche in those films’ eras but painfully mainstream now.
Northwood Pie is another such film, offering little in the way of surprise or unique ideas — but it has a nice dose of heartfelt character work and small-budget technical skill anyway. It’s a charming indie surprise that actually feels like a now-classic template translated into a more contemporary vernacular.
Maybe part of the reason Northwood Pie works is that the movie is grounded in its cast and crew’s reality. Northwood Pie is a homegrown business in Irvine, California. The movie was shot there, on location, and funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign from 2015. Crowdfunded projects can be hit or miss. Having one turn out to be precisely as promised, and actually good, is something of a miracle.
Crispin (Todd Knaak, who also co-wrote) is the lead character, a burnout who drops out of almost every class he starts at his community college. He has a host of friends with their own early twentysomething problems. Girlfriends (or lack thereof), too much weed, lame jobs. He finds a glimmer of meaning in a summer job at Northwood Pie, a local joint filled with colorful coworkers content in their lifestyles. Crispin is not content but has no idea how to start a life he knows he wants. Would Sierra (Annika Foster), the sole female employee at Northwood, be an answer to that?
Director / co-writer Jay Salahi captures Crispin and company’s suburban youth ennui in enough quiet moments to complement the dialogue, which is otherwise standard for this genre. The only great flaw to the script is Sierra’s character, who achieves Manic Pixie Dream Girl status and not much else. Particularly grating is the traditional-but-frustrating “she doesn’t belong to me” moment where Crispin’s frustration is made paramount. In a story about Crispin making a decision to start his life rather than wallow in old patterns and behaviors until it’s too late, he does very little empathetic learning. That ability to live beyond yourself for a larger purpose (even if that purpose is comparably small to the rest of the world) is key to changing one’s life. Crispin doesn’t learn a whole lot.
For Northwood Pie, the ending is a double-edged sword. The movie as a whole shines thanks to its authentic perspective, but that same perspective makes the ending feel somewhat weightless and unsatisfying. For what it’s worth, the only reason this critique felt noteworthy is because the previous hour of the film genuinely made me care. That alone is a high accomplishment for a coming-of-age drama soaked with the word “fuck.”