Hill's Tale of LA Skateboarding Teens: Mid90s
It's not always easy for teens to find a positive creative outlet for themselves. An adolescent named Stevie looks to find one in skateboarding in Mid90s, named for the era in which the story takes place. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) has an unhappy home life. His older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) constantly yells at and punches his sibling, even though Ian can easily overpower Stevie. Their single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) works as a waitress and has had a string of unhappy relationships with men. When Stevie sees a group of skateboarders on the street near his Los Angeles, he decides he wants to be a part of that crowd. He makes a trade with Ian to get a skateboard his older brother no longer uses. Soon, Stevie meets Ruben (Gio Galicia), the youngest of the group he saw. Ruben, in turn, takes Stevie to the skateboard shop where they congregate. There Stevie meets FS (Olan Prenatt), the wildest of the group and the one who can drive, Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), who videotapes the stunts the teens attempt, and Ray (Na-kel Smith), the best boarder of the bunch.
The teens allow Stevie to be one of their group, and teach him some of the tricks they do well. Dabney, however, has concerns about these new friends, as Stevie has never brought them to the house to meet her. He also gives his mother other reasons for concern, as he takes up smoking and drinking around them. He also has his first sexual encounter at a party with the slightly older Estee (Alexa Demie), who has problems with boys her age. Tensions also arise within the group, for jealousies and personalities clash with one another. The police also make their presence known at some of the places they like to go. Things get worse when a party they attend leads to some out of control behavior.
For Mid90s, actor Jonah Hill goes behind the camera in his directorial debut. While he has had story credits on other projects, he gets his first screenplay credit for this entertaining coming of age tale. While I don't sympathize with Stevie when he steals from Dabney and lies when Ian tells on him, he too often finds himself the target of anger from his sibling. With the skateboarders, he finds an acceptance that he doesn't find at home. Hill does a good job of creating a group of friends with discernible differences. Ray, for example, knows all the stories of all of his pals, and teaches Stevie an important lesson about being himself. Hill, however, ends the movie a bit abruptly. He does present a revelation, but he needed more of an epilogue to the film's climactic events to give the movie a better sense of closure. I hope Hill will get the opportunity to give his behind the scenes activities more polish.
Outside of Hedges and Waterston, I was not familiar with any of the other actors, some of whom make their film debuts here. Suljic's other credits include The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and The House With A Clock In Its Walls, but he moves into the lead role here. Suljic does a nice job of showing decision-making skills, and the consequences of his decisions. While he learns about his new pursuit and makes new friends, he also indulges in the temptations some of them have. He also shows how his home life affects him in some bad ways as well. Hedges is good in support as the big brother who wants his own space, but still cares about his little brother. Waterston also does fine as Dabney, who still wants something better from life for herself and her boys. Smith is the best of Stevie's friends as Ray, the one who'd like to make a living at skateboarding, and even works at the shop. He looks at life in a level-headed fashion, and doesn't let the activities of the others distract from his focus. Prenatt, whose actual character name strings together two profanities, is solid as FS, who lives life on the edge more than he should. Jerrod Carmichael has an uncredited cameo as a security guard who tries to chase the teens off private property.
Mid90s is not a particularly nostalgic piece, but it certainly looks back on adolescence more fondly than This Boy's Life, which shows an abusive man trying to hold the upper hand over his wife and her son. While abuse based on frustration plays a part here, each key character prefers acceptance and their own space. They want something good, whether it's in relationships or other good pursuits. Adolescence has just begun for Stevie, and he'll certainly be making more of his own decisions about friends and hobbies. He may not always make the best choices, but the most important choice he makes is to not allow life to get the best of him.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Mid90s three stars. All on board.
© 2018 Pat Mills