Sunny Suljic, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
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… an impressive debut film by Jonah Hill, a touching… evocative look at adolescence.
Jonah Hill has come a long way from playing a teenager obsessed with drawing genitalia. In the twelve years since Superbad, the actor has gone on to receive multiple Oscar nominations and worked with Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Gus van Sant among others.
Hill can now include writer-director to his own resume with the coming-of-age drama mid90s, an extremely personal look at LA male skate culture.
Being able to capture the mood of a subculture built on a foundation of not giving a damn is as difficult as landing a 720 Gazelle Flip (gnarly). The irony in having someone like Hill – who has found mainstream success – directing a film whose subjects reject pop-culture is risky, with the usual Hollywood representation of people in this subculture as degenerates a la Travis from Clueless.
mid90s’ romanticising the rejection of responsibility can present characters as selfish, though Hill’s considered approach to directing establishes the main cast as a loving unit of complex characters each with their own hardships.
Much like the adventure of growing-up being a fleeting ride of emotion, witnessing the tranquillity felt by the boys as they skateboard together, beautifully conveys their spiritual connection to the culture.
It is here where we see the boys – who find identity in counterculture – build a community based on a shared love of skateboarding but also come together as a family so they can escape the difficulties in their lives. Having real-life skateboarders portray skaters in the film and not focus on their skating technique is a bold move from Hill that pays off in establishing the carefree mood of the time.
Slurs used in jest, in both race and sexuality, highlight the dangers of toxic masculinity in youth culture with acts of kindness often shut down by other boys as a sign of being gay. Hill is liberal in his application of this type of non-PC dialogue, which is ultimately excessive and detracting from what should be moments of connection.
The graininess of each scene, coupled with the decision to shoot in a square aspect ratio, adds authenticity to each shot. Combining this aesthetic with a soundtrack largely comprising of ‘90s R&B and explosive anthems, help mid90s achieve the energy of the time while also working to show joy in the characters.
This being his directorial debut, Hill does demonstrate restraint issues, with certain scenes coming off as indulgent and feeling more like attempts at displaying technique than contributing to the narrative.
Hill’s bravery to deliver on the highs, lows and downright ugly of growing-up speaks to his great respect in grounding mid90s in reality. Throughout the film, babyface Stevie (Sunny Suljic) grows from a sweet 13-year-old boy to someone that resorts to bad deeds that create distance from his family (portrayed by Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston). There is a profound sadness in watching Stevie participate in dangerous acts and debauchery (the stuff of every parent’s nightmares) which allows mid90s to serve as an evocative look at adolescence.
mid90s is an impressive debut film by Jonah Hill, a touching testament to growing-up and the power of human connection.