Review: Jonah Hill’s directorial debut “Mid90s” is powerful and raw

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut “Mid90s” was released Friday, Oct. 26, and as Hill points out in interview with The Breakfast Club, “The movie is raw.”

This heartfelt coming of age story takes place in LA and follows a young group of skaters trying to find their way in a complicated and unfair world. The star of the movie, thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) escapes his abusive home life to find inclusion amongst an older group of mischievous skaters, including Olan Prenatt (Fuckshit) and world-renowned skater Na-kel Smith (Ray). Hill’s decision to use real skaters instead of actors plays out beautifully as the characters authenticity pours out in gritty abundance from start to finish. Other characters include camera junky Ryder McLaughlin, nicknamed Fourth Grade for his supposed level of intellect, and the groups second youngest member, Ruben (Gio Galacia), who takes Stevie under his battered wing early on.  

The film opens with a cringe-worthy shot of Stevie being thrown into the hallway wall and beaten by his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Growing up in a fatherless home, it becomes obvious that Stevie is searching for a role model as he curiously rummages through his brother’s music and clothing, writing down names of cassettes and trying on different hats. However, his brother’s continued abuse and isolation quickly drove Stevie into befriending a new group of kids that he first sees practicing tricks outside of a local skate shop. After bartering with his brother for an old board and teaching himself to ride, Stevie returns to the shop and quickly strikes up a friendship with the crew.

The groups standout leader, Ray, plays a candid African-American skater determined to use his talents to go professional and escape his poverty stricken neighborhood. His best friend, “Fuckshit,” is just as talented, but half as focused, spending more time drinking 40’s than actually skating. His crude, but fitting nickname is attributed to that fact that each time someone lands a trick, he yells out, “Fuck, shit that was dope.”

In his interview with The Breakfast Club, Hill reveals that the movies script took him three years and 20 drafts to complete. “I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker my whole life. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and director,” says Hill.

He also confesses that he sees himself as a writer first and foremost, and that he spent much of his childhood writing his own episodes of The Simpsons.

When speaking about his childhood in LA, Hill says “I was never a good skateboarder. I was 100% dedication and 14% skill. But I skated for six years, it still changed my life.”

He goes onto perfectly articulate why he was the right person to create this movie, saying “Michael Jordan’s not gonna be the person to make a great basketball movie. It’s some nerd who’s obsessed with Michael Jordan who will make the great basketball movie.”

One of the movies funniest moments comes early on when comedian Jerrod Carmichael makes a brief and uncredited cameo as a school security guard trying to kick the group of skaters off the schools property. Despite being told to leave the property, the group stands ground and mocks Carmichael with jokes about his job and cigarette habit. “Jesus smoked Kools,” Carmichael shouts back during his hilarious exchange with the teens.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without the powerful and confident performance of Sunny Suljic (Stevie) who claims his 2005 birthdate didn’t hinder him from taking on the role of a child born roughly a decade earlier.

“There is no age in skateboarding,” Suljic told IMDb. This simple yet powerful quote seems to embody the overall theme behind the movie, as characters of all different backgrounds, skin tones and age groups are brought together by one common theme: skateboarding.

Overall, Hill’s directorial debut is nothing short of impressive. Despite running just 84 minutes in length, Mid90s is full of heart, authenticity, and humor. Stevie transitions from a well-mannered middle-class teen to a rebellious and intoxicated skate-punk who’s journey for belonging is something everyone can relate to. And for a film that seems much more focused on character arc than plot, the movie never fails to capture your attention and is sure to leave you with nostalgic thoughts of childhood friendships.

CultureJustin Flesher