Whether its skateboarding or something else, everyone has to decide who they’re going to be.
Set in Los Angeles, North Hollywood tells the story of Michael (Ryder McLaughlin), a young man on the cusp of adulthood. With high school having just ended, Michael and his friends spend the summer trying to figure out what’s next for them in their lives. While some of his friends are preparing for college, Michael yearns to becoming a pro skater. As he figures out what it’s going to take to turn his dream into a reality, his father (Vince Vaughn) tries to push him towards more tangible jobs for his future.
Directed by Mikey Alfred, this trip to North Hollywood is an enjoyable coming-of-age story that highlights the challenges it takes to break free from our youth. With a simple but effective script, Alfred takes a ‘fly on the wall’ approach to his filmmaking that feels authentic. This is not a film driven by wild plot points or overly dramatic moments. Instead, Hollywood wants to be seen as a slice of life. While some will inevitably find this type of storytelling ‘slow’, there’s a joy embedded within the story that absolutely charms its audience.
Much of the film’s success lies within the strength of its performances. While Vaughn and Miranda Cosgrove are enjoyable, much of the film rests on the shoulders of its lead Ryder McLaughlin who turns in some good work here. As the young and impetuous Michael, McLaughlin carries himself with an insecure swagger that helps the character feel real.
However, Alfred’s most interesting decisions come through the soundtrack as he floods the film with music from the 1950s and 60s. By drawing a sonic line between generations, he fills Hollywood with an aura of youthful innocence and exuberance. Suddenly, teenage acts of rebellion feel pure and harmless. What’s more, this simple musical decision allows the eras to blend together to remind the audience that teenagers aren’t that different now than they were then. While the styles may change with time, the desire to come into one’s own remains the same.
With that in mind, Hollywood is very much about learning what it means to step into the future. As Michael pushes towards his dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder, so too does he come up against voices who try to tell him who he must be, especially his father. Although there remains a purity within his desire to skate, his father fails to see anything but the potential downside. A construction worker, Michael’s father believes that work comes by the sweat of your brow as opposed to sponsors and fame. As a result, he refuses to take his son’s dream seriously and Michael must decide whether his passion for skateboarding is worth enduring the pressure to conform that he experiences at home.
At the same time though, Michael’s relentless pursuit also threatens to steal his soul. Despite the courage he shows while pushing towards who he wants to be, he also begins to forget who he is. With the glamour of fame set before him, Michael starts to lose sight of the people in his life who have helped him get where he is. To him, the dream is within reach but this begins to change him. As he begins to step into adulthood, there’s a natural tendency to separate from the past but at what cost? As enthusiasm borders on arrogance, Michael struggles to stay true to himself and faithful to those who have supported him.
Though North Hollywood may slip under the radar of many, there’s a lot of value in this pleasant indie drama. While Michael’s story takes place in the heart of California, his emotional journey is one that everyone goes through. As a result, there’s something universal about this heartfelt story that remains appealing. In light of this, while not everyone will want to make the journey, this is a trip to Hollywood that’s worth taking in the end.
North Hollywood is available on VOD on Friday, July 23rd, 2021.