Jonah Hill’s directorial-debut film Mid90s is a movie, at face-value, about a group of skateboarders; but it is certainly more profound than that.
In 1990s Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) flees from a turbulent home life by finding solace in a new group of friends he meets at a local skate shop. The eldest, and leader of the group, Ray (Na-Kel Smith), takes Stevie under his wing and shows him what a family outside the home can look like. Like most families, however, this one has their fair share of tribulations. Their journey is beautifully honest on screen. In fact, their acting is possibly the only thing that rivals the poise of their skating.
There is a scene in the film, a close-up shot of Ray gripping Stevie’s new board and drilling in the wheels, that’s gloriously over-the-top. It is evident that Hill wanted to make a film about skating and hip hop, but it isn’t until the final frame that it becomes clear these two vehicles for narrative offer a unique metaphor for perseverance. Perseverance, I submit, is an underlying message in the film. Can you fall and get up? How hard can you get hit, rather, and still find the strength to get back on your feet? Falling is inevitable. As Hill eloquently puts it, “we are all under construction.” But what Hill finds more important, and what is expressed through the film, is the journey to loving yourself.
This idea is similarly expounded upon in the magazine Hill released in conjunction with A24 and Mid90s. It serves as a companion piece to the film but is also quite an engaging read on its own. In short, Hill interviewed some of his close friends and asked them about the process of loving yourself or, reversely, hiding a part of yourself you are ashamed of. In a way, the film is a representation of how these tough questions can materialize within friend groups.
In that regard, the magazine feels like a director’s notebook for the film. However, there is the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit, and it is difficult not to get the impression that much of the film was cut out in the final edit. Although not much change happens over the course of the movie, it runs a mere 90 minutes in length and has ubiquitous quick cuts that are jarring at times. This editorial style is only used effectively during a tense scene towards the end of the film, but I’d be remiss if I gave too much away.
On the other hand, the music in the film is beyond redeemable. Fantastic. A Tribe Called Quest meant to Hill what the Beatles meant to his parents. It was clear before the film began that music would have a significant role in the piece and kudos to Hill for curating and developing this soundtrack with his team, because it carries you through the melodic roller coaster splendidly. I even found myself bouncing my head up and down to the beats.
You may vibe with the music as well if you grew up in the 90s. Or even if you didn’t. You may be brought to tears by the film because it is, like The Florida Project a year ago, wonderfully sad. You may find yourself laughing hysterically because it is filled with wit. And although it is unconventional, the story still seems to work. Jonah Hill may have made this film for himself, and for those kids who feel they do not belong, but I believe everyone can enjoy this film.