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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Mid90s

Jonah Hill makes an impressive directorial debut with this nostalgic, naturalistic skateboarding drama.
By Sarah Ward
April 04, 2019
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Mid90s

Jonah Hill makes an impressive directorial debut with this nostalgic, naturalistic skateboarding drama.
By Sarah Ward
April 04, 2019
  shares

The skate movie is having a moment and it's doing so in perfect style, gliding into cinemas one leisurely film at a time. After the all-girl antics of Skate Kitchen and the insightful small-town musings of Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap, Mid90s is the latest picture to profess its love for the board — and to roll along casually while making a big impact. All three kickflip-filled flicks are hangout movies, spending their time with friends who are both shooting and riding the breeze. They're also coming-of-age films, following kids navigating the reality of watching their childhoods slip by. Crucially, they're all slice-of-life pictures too, because nothing conveys the sensation of ollying in and out of adolescence like feeling as though you're right there with them.

Thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) wants nothing more than to join the local skateboarding crew. It's not just the thrill of idling down Los Angeles roads that appeals to the quiet teen, but having somewhere to belong. Ray (Na-Kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and Ruben (Gio Galicia) are all older, however they instantly become family — the family Stevie can escape to when his elder brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) is giving him grief and his single mum Dabney (Katherine Waterston) is sharing her stress. When the quintet aren't tearing up the streets, they're partying as if there's no tomorrow, although you can't skate through life without more than a few stumbles.

As summer ticks by, Stevie and his pals bide their time at the resident Motor Avenue skate shop, cruise around empty schools and test their luck with neighbourhood girls. They mouth off to security guards, stay out past Stevie's curfew, generally avoid going home and get in scraps amongst themselves. While they're getting into trouble, they attempt to forget their troubles — and it's this to-and-fro that makes Mid90s bubble along. Watching rebellious kids trying to fix their worries by falling into other woes isn't new or novel, but it keeps popping up on screen because that's how childhood works. Making his directorial debut as well as picking up his first scriptwriting credit, Jonah Hill understands this. In his hands, Mid90s is both an affectionate teenage dream and a devastatingly real reflection of youth struggles, tussles and hardships.

As a filmmaker, Hill has two tricks up his sleeve: nostalgia and naturalism. They mightn't seem to be the most obvious combination, but the pair fit together like wheels sliding onto a set of skateboard trucks. Hill mightn't have strictly lived the same existence as Stevie and the gang, but he directs this blast from the past like someone who's been there, seen it all and knows exactly how every second of his film really feels. With his square-shaped frames, he serves up images so vivid that they could be memories. With his clear-eyed view, he doesn't shy away from the grit and grease that lingers behind even the happiest moments.

Hill isn't just looking back fondly at his younger days. Rather, he's trying to capture the feeling of being a shy kid entering a new world and learning what getting older actually means. To do so, he needs the painstaking detail — the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sheets, Super Nintendo consoles, and the sounds of 'Kiss From a Rose', 'Pony' and 'Wave of Mutilation' — as well as the picture's stripped-bare performances. Hedges and Waterston might be Mid90s' biggest names, other than its director, but this movie is all about Suljic (The House with a Clock in Its Walls) and his first-timer co-stars. When Hill lets the camera sit and watch Stevie try trick after trick (and endure fall after fall) on his driveway, determination and desperation written across Suljic's face, that's Mid90s' heart. When the film roves around with the group, peering on as they do little more than skate away the hours with unbridled authenticity, that's Mid90s' oh-so-relatable soul.

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