“Mid90s” is an outlier; a movie about teenagers that does not fall into the trope of coming of age stories that society loves. Through its raw emotion and deliberate yet understated screenplay, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut provides a necessary redefinition of what it means to grow up.
Hill’s unconventional way of showing a coming of age story is a beautiful ode to his generation. He reevaluates what growing up is all about: you fall countless times but you must learn to always get up. He also shows how one can find friends in new places.
Shot with a 4:3 aspect ratio, a square-like frame that was utilized for decades but has since become more obsolete, “Mid90s” looks like it was actually shot in the ‘90s. It indulges in its fair share of nostalgia while staying true to the story, and although our generation cannot relate to most of this nostalgia, the emotions of the story could not possibly be lost on any of us.
The plot of “Mid90s” follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a prepubescent boy who faces everything from peer pressure, to drug and alcohol abuse to a violent household on a daily basis. Throwing himself headlong into a crew of high-school-aged skateboarders, we watch as he is continually beaten down but gets back up again, over and over. As he gets to know and bond with those who he once revered as idols, his interactions with the skateboarders grow more meaningful with each conversation.
Stevie, like many of his friends, uses skateboarding as a respite from his problems. At home Stevie is used as a punching bag by his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), but when he is out skateboarding with his friends he is freed from his abusive homelife. One friend in particular, Ray (Na-kel Smith), helps Stevie figure out his way into the skate community. We are quickly able to pick up that Stevie sees Ray not only as a friend, but as a role model. It makes sense: Ray appears to be the leader of the group, and has a bright future ahead of him with the possibility of going pro. He doesn’t drink and smoke excessively like F***sh*t (Olan Prenatt), and is always looking out for Stevie. Ray’s fondness for Stevie causes jealousy for group member Ruben (Gio Galicia). Ruben isn’t shy when it comes to expressing his disliking towards Stevie. He makes fun of Stevie for using manners and refers to using manners as being “gay”.
Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), named that because of his apparent lack of intellect, is seen throughout the film with his camcorder. He represses his feelings and barely talks. McLaughlin portrays his character nicely and the audience can see his anxiety and tenseness in the way he carries himself. McLaughlin’s character’s use of his camcorder plays a vital role in the pleasing finale of the film.
The movie will not be out to the general public until Oct. 19, but a special premiere was open to a select few the evening of Oct. 3. After the screening of the movie, cast members Suljic, McLaughlin, Prenatt and Galicia, appeared for a short Question and Answer session with the audience
During the Q and A, a young man in the audience asked what kind of insight Jonah Hill shared with them as the director during the shooting of the film. Suljic explained how Hill was able to see each scene from an actor’s point of view, given that Hill is an actor himself. Galicia elaborated on Hill’s effort to make sure each and everyone of the actors were comfortable on set.
When asked about how the actors prepared for their characters, Prenatt said they had movie nights which were ‘90s films strictly or skate videos to give them some context on what skaters were like in the ‘90s. Prenatt also explained how Hill gave them an iPod that had songs their characters would listen to.
The Q and A revealed how the actors are remarkably in touch with their characters, which is largely due to excellent directorial guidance from Hill. The genuine acting comes from a thorough examination into the lives of these teens, and creates an impeccably authentic atmosphere in “Mid90s.” Although “Mid90s” does not depict a story or a lifestyle many can identify with, it is a story that deserves our attention.