Jonah Hill’s directorial debut catapults the audience back to the ʼ90s through the eyes of a troubled teenage boy.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, AMC Mission Valley 20 hosted a prescreening of Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s,” starring Sunny Suljic, Olan Prenatt, Ryder McLaughlin, Na-Kel Smith, and Gio Galicia. The movie follows the life of 13-year-old Stevie (Suljic), who escapes his troubles at home through skateboarding. Lonely and lacking a healthy relationship with his older brother, he finds a group of older kids at a skate shop. The group takes him under its wing, and Stevie quickly becomes eager to prove himself. Like Stevie, each of his new friends has troubles waiting for them at home, but skating provides an outlet for them to process and express their emotions.
Stevie, being the youngest of the group and easily influenced by the people he admires, only wants to fit in. Without strong family ties that might work to ground him, Stevie sets off on any attempt to integrate himself into the group. Ray (Na-kel Smith), the leader of the group, is the most level-headed one, as well as the most motivated to better himself. Contrastingly, Ray’s best friend, F—s— (Olan Prenatt), just wants to skate and party forever, wasting his potential despite having the most opportunities out of the group. The third member of the group, Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), is particularly underprivileged but continues to pursue his film-making dreams with or without the support of others. The “outsider” in the group, Ruben (Gio Galicia), is good-hearted but deals with feelings of resentment because he is the least integrated despite his many efforts to prove himself.
Stevie’s friends show him a new world of teenage debauchery, through partying, drinking, smoking, and indulging in other illicit activities. His friends show him that despite their circumstances, they can still find ways to be happy and have fun, even if they make misguided decisions in the process. Stevie lacks a relationship with Ian (Lucas Hedges), his older brother who beats him up, and this emotional neglect causes him to seek acceptance from outside sources. The group includes Stevie into their skater culture, showing him how everyone is able to connect through a love of skating. Together, they learn about themselves and how to navigate life’s obstacles. They discover that in the end, there is always something good to focus on, even when life seems hopeless, and for them, that’s skating.
“Mid90s” explores how troubled youth find support in each other. The film shines a light on how adolescence is a time of self-discovery, and how truly important friendships are during this time. It’s not the adults that the kids feel they can talk to, but rather others their own age experiencing similar troubles. These boys forgo any lovey-dovey communal bonding in favor of skating, which seems to be the teenage boys’ version of group therapy. Though their pursuit of adventures often lands them into tough situations, their surprising openness and support provides a collective outlet to parse their individual challenges.
The emotional and personal developments of each character are effectively illustrated by the groups’ social dynamics. Each scene defines new dimensions for the characters. The film does not shy away from showing some of the more realistic, or even mundane, conflicts between friends. Furthermore, it doesn’t overdramatize any one conflict, but rather establishes empathy with the viewers through these smaller, more relatable moments. Each scene brings the actors closer to breaking the fourth wall, making the audience feel like they were part of their group.
The film was brought to an end rather abruptly, but not incompletely. Any loose ends were resolved thoroughly, but there was definite potential left over for a sequel. After the well-crafted cinematic experience that “Mid90s” delivered, Jonah Hill can most likely look forward to a successful directorial career.
Director: Jonah Hill
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Gio Galicia, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Ryder McLaughlin, Lucas Hedges
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Image courtesy of A24