During this depressing (no other adjective works as well) period known as the Lockdown, it seems I spend as much time dodging "wokerism" with as least as much skill and acuity as I spend dodging the virus. Hollywood, for the most part, is one of those things that I've given up during this prolonged period of emotional/intellectual fasting (Lent?) that I've been putting myself through on the offhand chance that my own lack of substance somehow aided in the creation of this mythopoetic nightmare.
Hollywood has become as narcissistically obsessed with its own sense of virtue and self importance as those slick-haired, flatlander preachers who can go on for days about the glory of Christ without understanding said subject in the least. All the discussion about non-essential and essential workers seems to have lit a fire under its ass to the point that if an A list celebrity so much as takes the trash outside it has to be accompanied by a video lecture on the virtues of recycling. And they make it worse by pretending it's a spontaneous act borne out compassion, as if their agent weren't pushing them out the door, and the film crew, poised and waiting, was a part of the daily trash removal ritual.
It's gotten so bad, that almost nothing that Hollywood puts out nowadays interests me in the least, and before the lockdown I loved going to movie theaters late at night and eating buttered popcorn.
I decided to rent the movie North Hollywood because: A) I was bored out of my mind and tired of deep reading and thinking B) everything else Hollywood has made lately is either pretentious, lightweight, or repetitious C) I like coming of age stories because of their similarity to hero quests and the message they send that with proper guidance we are all capable of overcoming our problems and D) I love movies that are set in the back streets and seldom seen areas of big cities like New York and Los Angeles. In truth, I didn't really expect much and at the beginning, I suspected that was exactly what I was going to get. The movie starts out slowly.
North Hollywood was made by the same people who made Mid90s, a skater flick about a young boy's search for meaning during the decade when pop culture exploded with all its flash and crass shallowness. I didn't like it when I first saw it and didn't really understand why. I thought that it was like a lot of movies about being young and glorified aimless sex, drug use, an alcohol fueled excess, and was serving as a primer for existentialist thinking using the skater lifestyle as a method to convey the message that life has no meaning so it's up to us peons to color it up anyway we that we see fit, mainly by dulling our senses, tattooing everything in sight, and creating our own hieroglyphic understanding of the banality of life. I went back and watched it again though and came away with a different perspective. The second viewing forcefully reminding me of my own straying from the well trodden path being laid out for me by all my disinterested instructors, Sunday School teachers, and my tired, distracted parents.
Like Stevie, the protagonist of the movie (ably played by a young Sunny Suljic), I also was searching for something else when I rejected my parent's lifestyle and whatever it was those well-intentioned adults were trying to tell me because it didn't take more than a minute to figure out that they were every bit as confused and frustrated by life as me.
It seems to me, that the society of the 60s and 70s only wanted me to drink, screw, and get high. If I had to summarize the message of era as I lived it, that would be it. Eat, Drink, and have Sex because tomorrow you die. It didn't occur me until much, much later that there were many other alternate meanings contained in the events of the times. Meanings that people who were much less confused than I held on to tightly and used to guide them forward and who therefore suffered a lot less than me and my friends.
It was the ending of the movie that changed my view the most. Stevie's mom walks into the waiting room at a hospital and sees his friends asleep and has to recognize that Stevie had managed, despite all the danger and false turns, to create a family unit out of nothing but a simple desire for acceptance.
North Hollywood takes up that theme and runs with it. It also offers up something that has been missing from Hollywood for quite sometime, a middle ground that is not a marshy, swampland filled with radioactive alligators and soul sucking zombies, a middle where the conflicting characters can gingerly work their way back toward each other innately understanding that it this middle that needs solidified and maybe even surrounded by a dike or two to hold back the storm waters that both mother nature and stupid sons-of-bitches unleash upon us as we set about the sowing and reaping of our own lives.
The film juxtaposes a flashy modernity representing the future against a backdrop of Leave It Beaver neighborhoods, parent/child conflict as old as the middle of the last century, and outdated social structures and understanding to reveal the truth that the past and the future are locked in a permanent embrace which all about producing moments where we must face decisions about what we should regard as timeless, what new thing is needed to help us move forward, and what needs to be jettisoned or buried. I haven't seen this in a movie for quite some time. Modern movies seem to be always about the blaming, the failing, and the rejecting with the writers and movie makers not only intent on passing out corporate culture judgement while handing out worn-out platitudes covered with bling to make them seem original, and where pushing their often insane belief systems is deemed more important than documenting life as it plays out in real time.
The film goes against a lot of the hogwash that Hollywood has shoved down our throats for such a long-assed time, that our fathers aren't Al Bundy's or Homer Simpson's and never really were except in the poisonous minds of Hollywood scriptwriters, ass kissers, and producers; that Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein may share male genomes, but they were never perceived as father figures (Hollywood forgetting its own role in pushing Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint as culture heroes and the extreme irony involved in shouting ME TOO from a stage at the Academy Awards where they passed out awards to all of the people who shaped that toxic culture in the first place (Thank you, Ricky Gervais), and that there is and always has been a solid middle ground where young and old not only can but must meet to learn from each other without the intersession of the high priests and priestesses of the hedonistic and power mad elites.
Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) the protagonist is a young man in search of a better future. In many respects, he is the continuation of the Stevie character of Mid90s. He wants to be professional skater and faces a lot of hard choices because of this dream. His father doesn't see skating as a valid career choice and urges him to find something more substantial and practical. He's lucky because he does have talent, and the talent brings him to the attention of people who have followed the career path successfully. This however creates problems with what to do about friends who are less driven to succeed and are more into skating for the simple pleasures and the distractions. This is also a throwback thematically. My generation coined the phrase Go With the Flow back in the 60s and society has suffered from it ever since It is more than somewhat refreshing to see something that points out that going with the flow usually carries one downward to the lowest levels of existence. In one of the film best performances, actor Angus Cloud powerfully portrays Walker a character who serves as the very embodiment the effects of such existentialist attitudes when combined with hedonistic life choices.
Vince Vaughn plays the father in one of his best performances. There is a scene at the end that made me tear up at the recognition of the conversations that my father and I never had. My dad was a mechanic, a Dust Bowl Okie, and a working class Renaissance figure capable of building a house or taking a car apart and putting it back together. I, on the other hand, was born to read. It was always in books that soothed my anxieties and searched for truth and meaning. I've gotten to point where I realize that my Dad's knowledge of electricity and mechanical systems would have greatly enhanced my understanding of life in general, and all I ever had to do was ask him a question. He would have answered not only joyfully, but with every ounce of passion that he had in him, and it would have allowed me to share some of the things I learned from reading.
I bought my dad a nice Fender acoustic guitar on his birthday for helping me get through college. It took his breath away when he pulled it out of the case. This movie made me realize that asking him a few simple questions would have done so much more.
The last scene of the movie was simple yet effective as it showed Michael skating away from what could have been an explosive confrontation with his father. Echoing a similar scene in Mid90s where young Stevie and his friends are shown skating down the center of road in the awesome light of the dying sun, the scene conveys a sense of complete freedom that only comes after ridding ourself of the baggage of the past that so often clings to us like stepped-on dog shit, but only after squaring up accounts with all the good our early years had to offer.