Jonah Hill’s “Mid90s” an emotional homage to golden era of skateboarding
Raw, gritty and powerful are three words that come to mind when describing Jonah Hill’s debut film “Mid90s.” The film stars Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatta as a group of teenagers who embark on a skateboarders’ odyssey through broken spirits, bones and boards.
Stevie, played by Suljic, is a young teenager growing up in Los Angeles during — you guessed it — the mid-90s. Raised by an absent mother and an abusive older brother, Stevie is left alone to confront an unwanted image of himself in a time of crucial development. Reaching his hand out for a role model, Stevie is taken in by a local team of skaters and shown the subterranean world of skateboarding and friendship.
Shot on a super 16mm camera and framed by a boxy 1.33:1 ratio, the vintage yet grainy photography sets the film’s old-school mood and resembles that of a classic ’90s skate film, both having the same granular effect which results in downright nostalgia.
Right out of the gate, the larger themes of this movie present themselves as dysfunctional relationships that are scattered throughout and demand most of the film’s dialogue. Brother to brother, friends versus family, skaters and their skateboards — all relationships are met on a rollercoaster, and some grow stronger while others fade. Some of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments of the film were the breaking and building of these relationships and watching those repercussions take shape in the actions of certain characters.
More than just a skateboarding flick, “Mid90s” touches on the unanswered and not so internal prejudices that were more than common in that era. The dialogue, being intentionally centered around the homophobic and blatantly racist terminology of the times, is quickly shut down by the older, “wiser” skaters in the group.
As the film plays on, the dialogue is placed over the serene yet ominous tones from the film score, composed by Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. When the score is not present, the soundtrack soars. Packed full of classic ’90s hip-hop and alternative rock, from upbeat to down low, the soundtrack speaks volumes about the film’s overall mood. And unique to Hill’s production, a single scene will quickly cut from one song to another, as if someone accidentally pressed skip on their Walkman. This might sound unappealing, but when Big L’s “Put It On” is quickly followed up with some unplugged Nirvana, one cannot help but marvel at the film’s audiophilic initiative.
Though much like a classic skate film in its production, there is a surprising lack of actual skateboarding in the movie. Despite a few scenes that focus on the skating prowess of the group, the camera focuses more on facial expressions and the body language of those who ride. The film is more than just tre-flips and crook grinds as it focuses on what really drives the skater to that level of dedication.
But on the same note, this film is a skater’s dream. Many can reminisce on the subjective golden era of skateboarding, back in the mid-to-late ’90s when names like Eric Koston and Chad Muska were beginning to influence the skateboarding masses that still follow them today. Although these skaters are not featured in the film, their companies — Girl Skateboards, Shorties, Chocolate — are consistently displayed on the skateboards and clothing throughout the film.
This film is a nostalgic trip for not only those who pushed a skateboard in the 1990s, but also to anyone who spent even the smallest amount of their childhood in the twentieth-century. From the Wu-Tang Clan CDs to the hand-me-down FUBU, this film elicits nostalgia and lives up to the echo through its musical score, cast and setting.
As the film spends most of its time in the midst of bonding skate sessions, some of the scenes are shot in the most famous skate spots around the greater Los Angeles area. Many skaters in the audience can pick out the iconic concrete of the Hollywood High School and the black ledges of the West LA Courthouse Skate Plaza. Many of these locations are the setting for hundreds of classic skate films, and when the audience expects to get some shredding scenes in these locations, they are instead met with compelling conversations and heartfelt moments of friendship, which give an in-depth view into what makes the skater.
This movie may tell the tale of a young aspiring group of skaters, but it retells the stories of so many in the audience. Before the skating ensues, Stevie is found reading a “Big Brother” skateboard magazine which inevitably influences him to visit a local skate shop where he purchases the necessary aesthetics — clothing and posters — to gain the courage to approach his soon-to-be group of friends. For many of us, this is a walk through a time machine, a detailed account of our exact childhood mentality as we approached something new and exciting.
“I really believe that everyone has a snapshot of themselves from a time when they were young that they’re ashamed of,” Jonah Hill wrote on the A24 Films website. “For me, it’s that 14-year-old […] that felt ugly to the world, who listened to hip-hop and wanted so badly to be accepted by this community of skaters.”
The parallels between 14-year-old Jonah Hill and every single character from the film are innumerable. Each character struggles with self-doubt and anguish, hinging themselves on the emotional ties of their friend group, depending on the other when little value remains for the self. “Mid90s” teaches its audience that hope may be found in the face of despair, and for the characters in this film, that hope resides in a piece of wood and a set of wheels as well as in the love these friends hold for each other.
Written by: Jarrett Rogers — firstname.lastname@example.org