'Mid90s,' Actor Jonah Hill's Directorial Debut, Delivers a Compelling Coming-of-Age Story


In the opening scene of mid90s, the gritty new coming-of-age film from actor Jonah Hill, Ian (Lucas Hedges) tosses his brother Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a little runt of a kid, into a wall and then proceeds to deliver a few good punches before Stevie can scramble into his room and lock the door behind him.

That opening scene sets the tone for the movie, which takes place in, as its title suggests, the mid-’90s in Southern California. A compelling slice of life, the film opens areawide on Friday.

Because he doesn't have a great home life, Stevie gravitates to a group of skaters he randomly meets one day. As a result, he begins to quickly grow up. The kids all dabble in drugs and alcohol, and Stevie has to make decisions about whether he wants to partake or not. He eventually begins to party with the guys, and his mother (Katherine Boyer Waterston) catches on and even warns him against hanging out with them. He doesn't listen and soon develops some swagger thanks to his association with the clique.

While the guys regularly trespass and commit other crimes in the attempt to find places to work on their skating skills, the gang doesn't operate without a conscience. Long-haired Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) parties the hardest of them all and regularly gets in the face of anyone who gets in his way, but Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) aspires to make movies and videotapes all of the group's antics, and Ray (Na-kel Smith) hopes to become a pro skater one day.

Hill also wrote the film's script, and while there’s not much of a plot, the dialogue hits the mark. The foul-mouthed kids regularly use the N-word and drop f-bombs. Not for the faint of heart, the film also includes a scene in which young Stevie receives a sexual awakening via an older teenage girl (Alexa Demie) he meets at a party. Given the characters' ages, it's one of the movie's more uncomfortable scenes.

Inevitably, all the risky behavior will catch up with the group, and they’ll have to rely on their dysfunctional family bond to overcome one of their biggest blunders.

As much as the film offers a warts-and-all look at a down-and-out teenager’s life, it also shows how the group of trouble-making misfits who ride skateboards and listen to underground hip-hop aren’t as heartless as they might appear to be. The movie also shows how skateboarding and the culture that surrounds the sport cross lines of race and class (but not gender — at least not in the film since all the skaters we see are guys).

The terrific soundtrack of '90s music that includes acts such as Tribe Called Quest, Pixies, Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang also serves as one of the film's strengths. And be sure to stick around for the credits which include clips from Fourth Grade’s fictional film about the group.

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