Eleven-year-old North has had it with his parents. They are always busy with their careers and don't give North the attention he needs, so he files a lawsuit against them. The judge rules that North should either find new parents or return to his own parents within two months. Thus North starts off on a hilarious journey around the world to find the parents that really care about him.Written by
Peter Huiskes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I Confess To Seeing This Movie In Theaters As a Child . . . Twice
I just thought I would get that confession out of the way and into the open. Yes, I went to see this in theaters twice when I was 11 years old. I could list to you the excuses I have, such as the fact that my parents paid for my ticket, and there were only six theaters in my local multiplex at the time, and I had already seen "Forrest Gump". I could go on. The truth is that when I first saw a matinée showing of this film with a friend, neither of us thought it was a bad movie. Then I went to see another matinée showing a few days later on a rainy day with my brother and a babysitter, and they both hated the film. Not disliked, mind you, but hated it.
They weren't the only ones. In the sixteen years since the film's release, I have heard nothing but bad things about it. It was released on VHS once, never on DVD, and Roger Ebert's review ("I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it") is now more famous than the movie itself.
As a kid, I knew "North" wasn't a perfect film. In fact, its major flaw was (and still is) the major cop-out (and frankly lazy) ending that I won't give away. However, I thought it was enjoyable enough, it had a creative (but highly unrealistic) premise, and I liked (and still like) Elijah Wood. Before seeing the movie again after so many years, I wonder what I missed about it in the first place that other people didn't. After seeing it as a 27 year old, I wonder how I could have missed these things to begin with.
I think what disappointed people the most about this movie was the fact that it had an all-star cast, a likable lead, an accomplished director (Rob Reiner) who had not directed a bad film before this one, and was based on a book written by Alan Zweibel, one of the original Saturday Night Live writers (who also wrote the screenplay). I haven't read that book, but the idea of a child leaving his parents is more sad than funny.
Wood plays a child named North who is a stellar student, athlete, and actor, yet he is worried that his parents don't pay enough attention to him simply because they ignore him while arguing one night at the dinner table. His successful legal divorce from his parents causes a contrived media circus resulting in kids having control over their parents. Such a revolution is spearheaded by North's acquaintance Winchell (Matthew McCurley), a journalist for his school's newspaper who reminded me then of Stuart Minkus from "Boy Meets World" but now reminds me of Dick Cheney. In an even more contrived circumstance, Winchell becomes head of a major corporation, and plots to kill North when he decides to return to his original parents.
Throughout the film, North goes around the world searching for better parents. He stays with various sets of adoptive parents. They include a couple in Texas (Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire) who dress like cowboys you find at the Ice Capades, Alaskans (Graham Greene and Kathy Bates) who send their elderly father (Abe Vigoda) out to sea to die in an archaic ritual that hasn't been practiced in 150 years, and Hawaiian parents who are all too eager to show North's rear end on a highway billboard. It makes me sick writing about these jokes, so you can imagine what it's like to watch it.
Seeing this as a kid, I never took these plot points seriously, perhaps because I never thought about divorcing my parents. Seeing it again as an adult, here's what I missed that was so bad about the movie: the awful ethnic stereotyping that came in the form of tasteless one-liners and myopic character depictions. The worst came in the form of Kathy Bates putting on a blackface equivalent to play an Eskimo. I cringe now at the terrible joke made by the Hawaiian Governor Ho (Keone Young) about his wife (Lauren Tom) and her inability to procreate: "Hawaii is a lush and fertile land. In fact, there is only one barren spot on all of our islands. Unfortunately, it's Mrs. Ho.". If I were Mrs. Ho, I would have kicked him in the balls.
We've all done foolish things as children. My foolish thing was the 12 dollars that went to waste from seeing this movie twice (although they were both matinees, so I saved some money). The important thing is that I know better now, and I reviewed this film recently before writing this review. This rule should apply to every amateur critic on this site: the way you remember movies you saw years ago is not the same as the way these movies actually are.
Siskel & Ebert declared "North" the worst movie of 1994, and looking back, their reasoning was good. Is it the worst movie I've ever seen? No. Worse movies came out in 1994 ("It's Pat: The Movie" and "Exit To Eden" come especially to mind), and any movie written or directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer make "North" look like "Citizen Kane", and I doubt Ebert would disagree. However, there's no question that there's only one barren spot in Rob Reiner's directing career. Unfortunately, it's this movie.
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