The uncertainty felt at the end of your high school years is undeniably stress-inducing, and it can be easy to feel as though you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. How can you pursue your dreams of becoming a pro skater when your blue collar dad won’t get off your back about going to college? Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) and his friends try to make the most of their final summer together, all the while trying to impress local professional skaters and keep their parents off their backs. North Hollywood strives to explore this summer period before starting the next chapter and leaving their hometown in a way that is relatable and humorous, but what it fails to do is successfully present anything original or strongly resonating.
Having grown up in the same neighbourhood his whole life, Michael and his friends are all finally finishing high school, and it’s safe to say that they are excited for what lies ahead. Besides skating, the only topic of conversation seems to be their next steps into joining society, something which everyone, bar Michael, has a solid plan for and they are on their way to where they want to be. Michael wants to develop his skating career, even though he is initially too scared to talk to the pros who hang around the skatepark. It’s a story of loyalty, family and Californian youth, yet the central characters all feel as though they have been regurgitated from a Disney Channel show, which can only be imagined as missing the mark on the intended tone, as an elevated angsty skate flick instead of a coming-of-age that relies on clichés.
That being said, sometimes clichés can be rewarding. The true core of the film and the relationship that holds the most weight in the piece is the dynamic between father and son. Michael’s dad (Vince Vaughn) is a stern man who, understandably, is rather concerned when discovering that Michael wishes to pursue skating professionally. The scenes between that are peppered throughout are often heartfelt, and the final moments in which we see them together is one of the most touching between father and son that I have seen in recent memory.
It could be argued that North Hollywood is somewhat authentic, to an extent, due to the inclusion of real life pro skaters, and the natural merging of fiction and non-fiction, with emphasis on naturalistic acting. Walker (Angus Cloud) gives what is undoubtedly one of the best performances in the piece, giving a similar tone to that of his Euphoria character Fez, and it was a pleasure to see him shine in a supporting role.
When presented with an angsty teenage boy, unless you are in a position to relate to them, it can be difficult to sympathise with characters such as Michael, as we are given very little reasoning behind his attitude. His dad wants him to have a stable future and his upbringing appears fairly comfortable, so why the defensive nature? It becomes difficult to engross yourself in a story if you cannot seem to connect with the protagonist, or even see where they are coming from.
It must be said that the film definitely picks up in the second half, as Michael begins to spend more time with the pros and the narrative seems to find its pacing a bit more. Even the filming of the skateboard trick shots seem to improve, with the consistent amateur zoom-ins from the public skate park unfortunately taking away from the actual movements themselves.
Despite having a name such as North Hollywood, the film does not seem to proactively do much to construct their neighbourhood in a way that feels three-dimensional, which is particularly disappointing as the main trio and Rachel (Miranda Cosgrove) spend a great deal of the narrative praising their home district, and sure, we get to see the local skate park and diner but it would have been rewarding to see the love they have for the area, rather than just hearing about it. “Show, don’t tell” is an old adage for a reason. The local community feels somewhat disconnected, but presumably that may well indeed be what living in North Hollywood is like.
It is hard to not draw comparisons to pieces such as Skate Kitchen and Mid90s due to the subject matter, but North Hollywood feels somewhat flat, when dissected alongside these pieces that hold more depth to them, and higher narrative stakes. It’s a bit cheesy in places, but occasionally when the tone is right, it is rather heartfelt. That being said, if you’re looking for a fully-fleshed out skater flick, you might want to look elsewhere.