Jonah Hill pulls on heartstrings in directorial debut, Mid90s
Before hypebeasts spent hours waiting in line for the latest Palace drop and before the Supreme box logo was slapped on everything from boxers to bricks, selling for upwards of $2,000, skateboarding was viewed as outlandish. It was not trendy or fashionable, and making a fortune from it was highly unlikely. Those who skated did so purely for the love of it.
Jonah Hill, well known for his Oscar-nominated performances in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Moneyball,” depicts a time when skating was still up-and-coming in his directorial debut, “Mid90s.”
As the title suggests, the film takes place in the mid-90s and follows a young boy named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he befriends a group of skateboarders in Los Angeles. Shot on 16mm film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the film feels less like of a coming-of-age blockbuster and more like a home movie.
It was clear the film crew spent a lot of effort ensuring the setting was accurate to the time. The scenes are filled with stickers, posters and graffiti that were reminiscent of the era. Hill even retrofitted the Santa Monica Courthouse, which had been illegal to skate until 2014. Having Aaron Meza as an associate producer for the film also helped achieve the authentic ‘90s vibes. Meza grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area filming skate videos for fun and eventually worked as a videographer for Girl and Chocolate Skateboards, leading up to a current job with Viceland on the skateboarding show “Epicly Later’d.”
Stevie’s friends — Ray (Na-Kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and Ruben (Gio Galicia) — were all played by skaters. Although some of them had no previous acting experience, they were able to pull from their skating experience to give a genuine and natural performance on screen, almost as if they were playing themselves.
“Mid90s” does exactly what it sets out to do. It tells a heartwarming story of a group of skaters as they experience the ups and downs of teenage friendships. It checks all the boxes, sprinkling in bits about diversity, racism and financial issues, completed with an upbeat, nostalgic soundtrack. Hill plays it safe with his first outing as a director. My issue with this is that skateboarding is anything but safe. It wasn’t long ago that skateboarding was ostracized by the community at large.
The 2020 Summer Olympics will be the first to include skateboarding. The sport has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades and has come a long way from its humble, underground beginnings. While “Mid90s” shows the brotherly love and happiness that can come from skateboarding, I wish it had done more to show the grittiness inherent to the sport. The only face of authority in the film was a non-threatening police officer played by the charming comedian, Jerrod Carmichael.
That being said, the film creates a space for other skate stories to be told. Hill was successful in directing a film enjoyable for all, skaters and non-skaters alike. “Mid90s” helps propel skateboarding even further into the mainstream and will hopefully inspire other skateboarding movies to be made.