Illegal Civilization made their first movie, and it wasn’t the life-changing follow-up to “Mid90s” fans were expecting. Originally a clothing brand and skate group, Illegal Civ has turned itself into what members call the first teen movie studio, despite most of the staff and actors being in their 20s. They wanted to give a voice to Gen Z and to skaters, and that’s what many hoped they would find in “North Hollywood.”
“North Hollywood” was Mikey Alfred’s directorial debut. In the past, he’s worked with Illegal Civ on other projects, such as the show “Summer of ‘17” and multiple YouTube videos, and co-directed “Mid90s” with Jonah Hill.
Alfred’s youtube videos feature Illegal Civ members skating and also just hanging out. Sometimes they discuss topics relevant to them, like the gentrification of North Hollywood or drug use in the LA skate scene. “Mid90s” also starred many members of Illegal Civ, including Ryder McLaughlin, who played the lead role in “North Hollywood.” His past with these projects shines through in “North Hollywood,” which was made in part to document the niche and dying skate scene in this part of LA.
“North Hollywood” follows McLaughlin’s character Mikey, a self-assured, motivated, slightly arrogant teen, through the summer after his senior year of high school. He fights with his dad, gets a girlfriend and decides he wants to be a pro skater instead of going to college. To go pro, he needs to get in with a group of more experienced skaters that make money at the skatepark through brand deals and cameos. This leaves him at what he thinks is an ultimatum: ditch his old skate crew, dad and girlfriend and join the pros or stay in the life that he thinks is holding him back.
The film features a beautiful soundtrack and countless cinematic skating montages. Nico Hiraga and Aramis Hudson, who play Mikey’s best friends, embody the role of scorned skater boy during the second half of the movie. Vince Vaughn, who plays Mikey’s dad, thrives in the role of a working-class dad. “Noth Hollywood” blends together 50’s do-wop, hardcore music, and even features a show by The Garden, an experimental punk rock band from Southern California.
However, “North Hollywood’s” beautiful shots and cool skate tricks weren’t enough to cover for subpar writing and acting. The movie mimics the style of “American Graffiti” and “Dazed & Confused” by painting a picture of Mikey’s life through many different scenes and storylines. But these moments don’t connect as intended, leaving the viewer with a scatterplot of scenes rather than a coherent movie.
For this reason, “North Hollywood” fell flat with a lot of Illegal Civ’s die-hard fans.
“I was definitely expecting more from the Illegal Civ Group, but what I saw was an elongated youtube video,” wrote one viewer, whose handle is @brandenthanadabouth, in his IMDb review.
The acting was another low point of the movie. McLaughlin, who played a supporting role in “Mid90s,” had a hard time carrying the film. Miranda Cosgrove’s performance as Mikey’s girlfriend felt forced; there was barely any chemistry between them in their most romantic scenes. It was also disappointing to see McLaughlin (23) and Cosgrove (28) represent what was supposed to be the first teen movie studio.
The writing had its highs and lows: there was a lot that wasn’t explained (Mikey’s altar boy and water polo past) and some of the character arcs felt like they were just thrown in the movie so Alfred had an excuse to shoot another high-saturation wide shot. Throughout the entire movie, Mikey struggles with Walker (Angus Cloud), one of the pro skaters, and their tension is never resolved. However, the complicated feelings of teenage friendship and romance were captured well through Mikey’s struggles in his relationships. Mikey’s fights with his dad, which usually started over something dumb like a shower curtain, perfectly encapsulated teenage angst.
“North Hollywood” was an incredibly fun watch despite its flaws. The plot was simple and the movie featured some beautiful shots. Although it’s not the best thing on Apple TV right now, it’s definitely worth a watch if you like skating or Nico Hiraga. Hopefully, Illegal Civ will produce some better movies in the future.