The world of film is highly competitive.
So few movies make from to the screen, but with the advent of on-demand and worldwide streaming services, there is a much better chance of heartfelt projects seeing the light of day.
Northwood Pie is one of those small projects that wouldn't seem destined for greatness but manages to surprise for a sweet look at suburban youth.
The movie was written by Todd Knaak and Jay Salahi, who also produced the film with a $12,000 budget. Knaak leads the cast and Salahi directs. They are a talented couple of guys.
How I know they're talented is that they made a very watchable and heartwarming film about millennials growing up in Irvine, California on a shoestring budget.
And while the subject matter would seem like it would transverse any budgetary constraints, when it comes to casting and dodging the sometimes less-than-awesome viewing experience you get without a larger budget, it's more difficult.
Yet Salahi and Knaak come out swinging.
Northwood Pie is a love story to a long-lasting Irvine institution, Northwood Pizza. The pizza joint has catered to high school and college-age students since 1981, providing food, fun, entertainment, and employment to generations of Irvine residents.
Sometime around 2011, the restaurant changed ownership, closed, and threatened the tradition the residents had come to rely on. That's when two childhood friends and former employees reopened the beloved haunt in a new location.
Knaak was an employee of Northwood Pizza, and his experience was the catalyst for Northwood Pie.
Places like Northwood Pie can do a lot for small communities. In addition to feeding the masses, they offer somewhere kids can work at first jobs, return during summers in between school semesters, fall in love for the first time. They're seminal to excitement and disappointments associated with coming of age.
Salahi and Knaak capture that feeling quite well with their small budget and small cast. Knaak plays the lead, Crispin, and is a compelling lead, with considerable acting talent.
They found a scene partner for him in Annika Foster, who plays Crispin's coworker and love interest, Sierra. Together, they capture the wonder and pitfalls of young love.
Crispin is at a crossroads, unsure of where life will be taking him. He's got opportunities to make it out of Irvine, and getting a job could help him make that a reality.
But once he begins working at Northwood Pizza, hanging with his new friends, eating and cooking pizza, and smoking a lot of dope, Crispin begins to see the allure of their existence. After all, life outside of all that's familiar can be scary.
But Sierra challenges Crispin to think bigger. They find they have a lot in common, including a love of pot, tattoos, and deep conversation. While Sierra is relatively content with her dead-end existence, she recognizes in Crispin something greater.
And while all of this growing up is going on, the movie never ventures far from the unifying factor that brought everyone together -- Pizza.
If they weren't making actual pizza during the filming of Northwood Pie, I'd be shocked. There are beautifully filmed shots of pies getting made and going into and out of the oven.
They're spinning on turnstiles behind glass and getting tossed into boxes, all expertly and evoking the aroma of delicious pies with crisp, melted cheese and pungent sauce.
It's pretty clear that Salahi and Knaak have a love for the subject matter, that's for sure.
Crispin and Sierra are the stars of the film, but pizza isn't far behind.
The other characters are more one-note and have less development, but that's about right for similar movies. Think about Clerks, in which the mall is just as important of a character as the actors themselves.
If all of this sounds fun to you, it's pretty easy to catch Northwood Pie. It's included with Amazon Prime.
Not everything about the 2020 school year feels familiar, but saying goodbye to friends and letting go of childhood is a feeling that never expires.
Northwood Pie captures the essence of that period without all of the glitz and glamour found in Hollywood movies. In short, it feels more like your life as you remember it.
That's probably the best thing to come from a small budget.
Instead of focusing on costumes and sets, they let real-life infuse the film. Salahi's direction and Knaak's acting ensure that you'll feel at home watching Northwood Pie without ever remembering that they did it while keeping the purse strings tight.
If you're looking for a sweet, simple film to watch this weekend, consider giving Northwood Pie a shot. It's a labor of love that deserves a look.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.