VOD film review: Northwood Pie
Matthew Turner | On 16, Sep 2020
Director: Jay Salahi
Cast: Todd Knaak, Annika Foster, Sean Lamping, Paul LeSchofs, Trevor Larson, Amir Malaklou, Kristina Cohen, AJ Hamilton
Watch Northwood Pie online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Google Play
Set in Irvine, California, this low-budget rom-com is, in part, a tribute to Northwood Pizza, a real-life pizza joint so beloved of the local community that former employees reopened it in a different spot after it was shut down by new owners. The sort of place where having a job there was almost a rite of passage in itself, Northwood Pizza directly inspired lead actor/co-writer Todd Knaak, who was an employee when he was a student.
The film centres on Crispin (Knaak), a college student who’s approaching burn-out, preferring to spend his days lazing around with his all-male group of friends. On a whim, he applies for a job at Northwood Pizza, whereupon he immediately gains a whole new social group, including quirky wise-ass Lloyd (Paul LeSchofs) and till-jockey Sierra (Annika Foster).
Over the next few weeks, Crispin grows closer to Sierra and they start hanging out, although he stops short of making a move, instead agonising over every detail of their interaction with his friend, Jason (Trevor Larson), a self-styled relationship guru. At the same time, Crispin tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
Essentially, this is a hangout movie and, as such, the key question is whether these people are good company. Fortunately, the answer is yes – the characters are quirky and consistently amusing, even if one or two of Crispin’s buddies are, how can we put this politely, dicks. At any rate, the likes of Swingers, Slackers and Clerks are all acknowledged influences on the film, and it mostly captures the same vibe.
If anything, it could have used a bit more of the latter, especially in its depiction of a workplace. On the one hand, the script perfectly captures the cameraderie and the various personalities – AJ Hamilton’s constantly frazzled manager, Dominic Syracuse’s weirdly aggressive assistant manager and so on. However, there’s a disappointing lack of detail in the behind-the-scenes reality of the pizza place – instead, Salahi resorts to a montage sequence that lasts several minutes and doesn’t do anything other than showing the cast making pizzas, and even then they don’t look that appetising. Maybe that was the cost of being able to shoot at the actual location.
As for the leads, Knaak is engaging and likeable, delivering a performance that’s strongly reminiscent of Paul Rust’s turn in Netflix’s Love. Foster is equally good, sparking genuinely charming chemistry with Knaak, to the point where you’re willing them to get together.
Crucially, director and co-writer Jay Salahi nails the film’s key emotional moment, with a brilliantly understated visual detail that hits like a gut punch. However, the script never quite gets to grips with its main theme – it’s supposed to be all about Crispin’s desire to leave town and pursue his ambitions, but you never get any sense of that from him (or, indeed, what those ambitions are) so it feels like it comes out of nowhere. That’s exacerbated by a problem with the film’s pacing, in that it’s never made clear how long Crispin actually works at the pizza place – consequently, everyone acts like he’s been there years, but it only feels like a few weeks.
It’s fair to say that the script could have used a bit of sharpening up, but this remains a likeable hangout comedy that succeeds thanks to its engaging performances.