It’s a late night for me and I just walked out of the theater showing Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, a film I was looking forward to seeing. The initial trailer was very engrossing.
The film’s plot is relatively simple — an aimless kid finds refuge from a turbulent home life in skateboarding and a small crew of guys welcome him to the club. Soon he becomes a cool kid that drinks 40s, smokes, swears, and gets deflowered somewhat. I liked it with some reservations. I know a couple former skater friends who’d enjoy/relate to it.
Here are a few observations I had from my movie-going experience:
At one point we get successfully dropped into The Source-era nostalgia when, early in the film, we see a super-sized Mobb Deep poster, a GZA record flat, and Liquid Swords poster alongside a one sheet for Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn and an extensive collection of mid ’90s rap CDs. As an added bonus, Del the Funky Homosapien shows up later in the movie as a homeless man the kids talk to in one of many makeshift skate parks.
This film feels like it wants to be a skater version of Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows or Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets with twinges of personal wish fulfillment on the director’s part. The camera is up close and personal, but then wants to stay in a non-judgmental lane as they, for better or worse, do their thing.
With regard to their thing, I was glad Hill didn’t attempt to dress up or turn a blind eye to the slurs and ugliness of teens in the mid-’90s.
I still don’t understand why the film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Other current films I’ve seen have been shot in this ratio because they wanted to communicate tension or a bygone era of filmmaking. The only reasoning I could come up with here was that maybe it was because old skate videos were shot with VHS video cameras that used the same ratio?
Wow. Harmony Korine just popped up in a scene to zip up his pants, post coital session with Stevie’s mom I’m guessing. Thinking of Korine, one can’t help but think about Kids, the film he wrote for director Larry Clark in the mid-’90s about troubled youth with skateboarding as the backdrop when watching Hill’s new film.
Sunny Suljic (Killing Of A Sacred Deer) portrays Stevie pretty much perfectly. He can be a thoughtful kid in one scene and a raging toolbag in the next. His angst-ridden violent brother Ian is portrayed by none other than an exemplary Lucas Hedges, known to many for his role in Lady Bird — a film Mid90s has been frequently compared to thanks to its era. The guys that Stevie looks up to and ultimately begins hanging out with — Ruben (Gio Galicia), the youngest member who grows jealous of Stevie; Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), the spacey kid who films the guys with a VHS camera; Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), the frequently wasted rich kid; and Ray (Na-kel Smith), the most chill and thereby wisest of the group — are pretty good, especially when you consider three of them are first time actors.
Speaking of acting, they didn’t give Katherine Waterson much to do in this film. As Stevie’s troubled mom, Dabney, I assumed Hill would give such a great actor as herself more to do in the story. Maybe there is more on the cutting room floor?
Much like Clark’s controversial Kids, halfway through the movie, two characters, ages 11 and 16 I think, are making out in a scene that will be daring and unflinching to some, while others will find it gross and nearly pedophilic (as noted by the gasp and “are they really showing this” I heard someone say).
Come to think of it, the movie’s two female characters are women who use their sexuality as an end and little else. Perhaps there was more to their characters or was this supposed to be Stevie’s sole experience with women? Does he only see two women: Estee (Alexa Demie), who initiates him into the cool phase of his life with some butt and Dabney a misguided, barely there parental figure that prostitutes herself out part time to make ends meet? That could’ve been a powerful angle to take in the film but little is done with it.
As the film ended with Pharcyde playing underneath a video created by Fourth Grade, I came away with one important point: When you’re as young as Stevie and his cool friends, you say and do some seriously stupid shit.
Mid90s — Rated R. Directed by Jonah Hill. Starring Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterson, Alexa Demie, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, and Ryder McLaughlin.
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