Raw is the most apt word to describe mid90s, a 2018 coming-of-age skate film and the directorial debut for actor-turned-director Jonah Hill. Though thin on plot, mid90s finds redemption through its authentic characters and genuine story.
Shaggy-haired Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is the youngest in a three-person family that includes Ian (Lucas Hedges), Stevie’s older brother, and their mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston) living in Los Angeles in the mid—well, you know. Biking through the city, Stevie happens upon a group of (cool) older boys skateboarding around a skate shop. Stevie returns the following day with intentions of befriending the bunch. The boys, Ray (Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and Ruben (Gio Galicia) immediately take to Stevie, with the eldest (and therefore wisest) amongst them, Ray and Fuckshit, taking Stevie under their collective wing.
Ray, hoping to become a pro skater, has Stevie’s best interests at heart. Fuckshit (who, coincidentally, did not receive his nickname for fucking shit up) turns his interests to partying as his high school graduation draws closer. Just thirteen years old and still impressionable, Stevie unconsciously adopts the group’s most egregious habits (smoking and drinking, skating recklessly, and using slurs) to impress them. When Dabney and Ian realize what Stevie has been up to, things reach a breaking point.
With a runtime of 85 minutes by the most generous of counts, mid90s doesn’t overstay its welcome. Like a stern, skate-based version of (the undeniable classic) Superbad, Hill spends the majority of the film around the kids and their high jinks. He’s able to extrapolate a surprising amount from these character interactions. Though Hedges’s character Ian is an ideal role model for his younger brother, Ian resents Stevie because of what he perceives to be an easier childhood.
Dabney is often absent from the boys’ lives, and she lives a sexually free lifestyle, bringing more men home than the boys are comfortable with, but she is far from the worst parent alive (or even the worst parent in the film). This is good commentary on the tightrope that divorced single parents must walk and the unexplainable, capricious anger that children of divorce (speaking from experience here) are prone to. All six of the young men featured are damaged in some way and representative of what may be the last wave of latchkey kids.
Undoubtedly Hill’s best commentary revolves around male friendship and the male tendency to tear each other down, smother emotion, and out-bad behave each other. The movie doesn’t shy away from the derogatory slang that young men often use with each other, nor does it shy away from addressing and correcting that impulse. Hill falls short when commenting on young Generation Xers and older millennials. It’s unclear what, if anything, Hill has to say about this generation. Further, the story is hyper-specific to Hill’s own experience and is in no way characteristic of those outside of skate culture.
If anything, Hill could be accused of style over substance with his focus on the nailing the period piece aspects. Viewers of a certain age will be swimming in nostalgia during its bona fide soundtrack. For those same viewers, era-appropriate costumes will also trigger a feeling, though it’s probably one of regret. Hedges, in particular, is subjected to some rather unfortunate outfits.
Whatever Hill becomes as a director, mid90s is an entertaining debut that he can look back on with pride.