Mid90s: Growing up on four wheels
By Oscar Chavez Castaneda
Skateboarding entered my life at just the right time. I was in middle school and had just moved to a completely new town, knowing no one at my school. I’ve never been very social and being the new kid didn't help. Eventually I came to make a few friends and through them, I discovered a new passion. That passion would drive me through the whole school year into one of the best summers of my life. Riding that piece of wood with four wheels opened up a whole universe to me. “Mid90s” captures that discovery and shares it with the world.
The film focuses on Stevie (Sunny Suljic) a thirteen year old kid navigating his adolescence in 1990’s Los Angeles. Stevie’s introduction shows us how he isn’t quite certain of his place in the world, outside of being his brother Ian’s (Lucas Hedges) literal punching bag. Venturing into the world, Stevie winds up gravitating towards a local skate shop and from there, he dives into a whole new environment.
Cooler, older kids (Olan Prenatt, Na-kel Smith, Ryder McLaughlin, Gio Galicia) run the skate shop and Stevie loiters in the store trying to soak in as much as he can from them. Slowly but surely he comes to be accepted into the group, their influence manifesting itself over the course of the film in a variety of different ways. Before our eyes, we see this kid begin to change.
“Mid90s” is Jonah Hill’s feature debut is an earnest love letter to the shared experience of skating with your friends. A glimpse into the 90s, we see teenage boys be teenage boys. Foul language, smoking, drinking, girls all marinate in the hormones of these guys as they run amok the streets of LA. Hill shows the bonds that can be forged, and broken, among kids at a confusing time in their lives.
Far from perfect, the film is nevertheless a commendable effort. Suljic is the definition of youthful innocence, infecting you with his boyish charm from the start. His friends all portray varying stages of development, establishing themselves as more than mere stereotypes. Each actor, regardless of how much screen time they get, breathe life into their characters and paint an empathetic picture many can identify with. Whether you see yourself in the determination of Ray, the hidden dreams of Fourth Grade or the simmering anger of Ruben, Mid90s provides a spectrum of experiences for the viewer to consume.
The film itself is beautifully shot, evoking the spirit of 90s independent filmmaking. With “Mid90s” Hill strives to translate an emotion. The issue with this is that the foundation in which this emotion grows, skateboarding, isn’t universal. I asked my wife what she thought of the film when we finished it and while she enjoyed it, it didn’t resonate with her the way it did with me. Countless times I exclaimed with joy at seeing experiences I had myself gone through, Stevie acting out my own adolescence on screen. While not a dealbreaker, I do see how this unique subculture can alienate certain viewers and create a dissonance that may take one out of the film.
“Mid90’s” also doesn’t worry itself with showing you a bombastic journey. There is no quest that Stevie and his friends have to complete in order to save the world. Stevie’s life is portrayed in intimate moments; getting his first board, fighting with his brother, smoking a cigarette or speaking with an older kid he admires. Life continues to go on as these kids navigate their own personal turmoils, some more difficult than others.
A quiet film that revels in character and nostalgia, “Mid90s” is certainly not for everyone. On the surface, it is a serviceable coming of age tale but perhaps it doesn’t quite set itself apart from its predecessors. However, if like me, you grew up enjoying the sound of concrete beneath your wheels, that steady ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk, this film will take you back in time. Revel in the magic of film and enjoy, if only for a moment, the carelessness and freedom youth offers.
“Mid90s” is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital. It is rated R.
4 out of 5 stars
(3 out of 5 is you didn’t grow up skating)