For most of us growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, one clear memory is the rise of skateboarding culture and it's place in school. Along with punk/grunge rock helping set the mood, I still recall the baggy pants and sounds of the little wheels grinding against the pavement, carrying a skater hopping to be as good as Tony Hawk or Bam Margera. Though there are a lot of people, especially kids that get into it for a passion, a lot of it revolves around the antiauthority that it rolls around; skating where their not supposed to and treating the urban and suburban landscape as their skatepark. It's a tamer version of feeling an adrenaline rush.
The reason I bring this up is that while I was never a part of the skating crowd, I did find culture fascinating and even fun. Heck, I still wear Vans shoes as my casual footwear. A lot of people try to find an explanation or a meaning behind it, though I can only say it’s a lot like any hobby; it's an escape from whatever mundane life were living. Skateboarding is so much about the gritty, bare bones aspect of life that even the filming around skate videos tend to me minimal. First time director Jonah Hill understands this in his debut, Mid90s.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, adolescent Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic) lives with his single mom Dabney (played by Katherine Waterston) and abusive older brother Ian (Played by Lucas Hedges). He's also shy and seems to have little friends. He becomes intrigued by a group of older kids skating around a set of stores. He follows them into a skate shop where he befriends close to his age Ruban, in which is then introduced to the rest of the group, Ray (played by Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (played by Olan Prenatt), and Forth Grade (played by Ryder McLaughlin).
The kids in this group are far more grown up, engaging in drinking, smoking, and even trespassing. It doesn't take long for Stevie to be going along with these vices, along with adopting whatever mannerisms the boys have in order to seem like "one of the pack". In the process of encountering good and bad moments, Stevie starts to see that despite his problems, it could always be worse and that everyone will have a different answer on what it takes to be a good friend.
Mid90sreminded me a lot of Boyhoodand Ladybird; this is another slice of life movie. What does separate this is this feels much grittier then your typical style of story. This isn't afraid to show several of these kids drinking or even engaging in their first time sexual encounters (off-screen, but it still has that same impact). With the focus on Stevie, he's just as capable, but he's never doing it for the sake of being bad, but rather that he's simply being a kid who wants to be seen as cool. Like any kid growing up, he does try to do better.
Thanks to the performance of Sunny Suljic and the other kids, I get not just a sense of understanding, but an eerie cloud that reminds me that even though I wish kids didn't live like this, they do, and I remember seeing those kids. Again, they do bad things, but not for the sake of harming anyone. It's all about making do with what they have. And having gone through this experience of a movie, I have to ask; would I have done the same thing if I was in this kids shoes? Possibly.
Jonah Hill clearly wanted to emphasize this, by making the movie just as gritty as it's story is. Even the film's ratio aspect is like an old skate video that I might have seen in those stores that showed the same footage for ambiance.
I will warn that this earns it's R rating in full. There are a lot of unpleasant moments that I won't spoil, but all add on to this slice of life that I can see easily happing to kids, even today. That's part of the intention of Mid90sand wants it's audience to understand that being an adolescent requires making dumb choices in order to grow up.
I'll give this five skateboards out of five. Mid90sis so authentic that I swore that I could smell the hot asphalt that was being skated on. It'll ride and grind through friendship and even if it doesn't land completely steady, it lands regardless. This is definitely one of my favorite movies of 2018 and cannot recommend this enough. Landing a grind is hard, making an ollie is hard, but growing up beats all others when it comes to the hardest trick. There's no answer and has to be felt. Mid90sneeds to be seen to be felt so go see this.