Skater culture has been popular for so many decades that it may seem passé in 2018. For the kids that are followed in the new film “Mid90s,” Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, skating is a way of life at the heart of the cultural zeitgeist.
Stevie (Sunny Suljic), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), Ray (Na-Kel Smith) and Ruben (Gio Galicia) take to the streets and skate to escape the stress of life at home. Skating becomes their main outlet and allows them to let go of their difficulties, even if only for a short period, and for some even provide a possible future away from the impoverished neighborhoods of Los Angeles that they come from. Jonah Hill engages the audience with his new film and allows us into the lives of a few kids that might otherwise go unacknowledged by most.
The lives of these boys are ruled by bubbling, hormonal testosterone and physical violence, often between Stevie and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Stevie and Ian fight in the film’s opening scene, and they rarely seem to stop. Yet, he yearns for intimacy with his brother. The camera soon progresses into a montage of Stevie exploring his brother’s room and looking through his records, meticulously ordered hats and t-shirts or magazines. Stevie is clearly a lost, solitary soul. He clearly looks up to the older brother who beats him, even writing down the names of all the music that he listens to when he enters his room.
One day, lonely, Stevie wanders the streets of LA and finds a skate shop, where he meets the group of boys that will become his best friends. A coming of age story, Stevie begins to navigate sex, drugs and alcohol as he further befriends these skaters. The group takes him to parties, skate parks and late-night drives. Tempted by all the dangerous exploits of his cool new friends, Stevie begins to spiral. While depicting Stevie’s experience in the new world, Hill also does an exceptional job painting intricate portraits of his supporting cast; none of the other kids’ stories go unnoticed.
This friend group is a diverse one: Fuckshit comes from a wealthy part of LA and discusses his summer trips to Paris, but he clearly struggles with internal issues and drinks heavily because of it. Fourth Grade comes from an extremely poor family and in Ray’s words “can barely afford socks.” Ruben harbors deep anxiety over being rejected from the circle of boys, and Ray struggles to get out of LA and make a career out of skating. Each character has their own unique story within the film, and it is intriguing to see how they all become interwoven as the movie goes on.
“Mid90s” would not be the film it is without its exemplary cinematography. The film itself models an amateur skating movie, even becoming one at the end — Fourth Grade films all of the skaters throughout the film and makes a short film, called “Mid90s.” Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt repeats one consistent shot throughout the film: a sun-enveloped LA street, lined with palm trees. The camera stays in one place, inviting the skaters closer and closer until they whiz by the camera. Here, Blauvelt captures the closeness of the group as they skate down the streets of LA. Some go faster and do tricks and some lag behind, but they skate as a unit and all have smiles on their faces.
The film represents the diverse experiences of a particular subculture of youth at a very particular time. Regardless of background, everyone has a passion in life. Everyone has something or somebody they care about. Hill’s directorial debut reminds us that life is not simple, but with the right outlet can become more pleasant and even create opportunities. This story of the friendships that blossoms out of a lonely boy wandering into a skate shop is touching. It will be hard not to leave the theater in tears.