The movie “Mid90s” is a backward glance a time where growing up in L.A. was full of adventure and pain. Both written and directed by Jonah Hill, this is not a 1990’s celebration of nostalgia, but more a look back full of retrospection and subtle comment. The main story line is a basic ‘coming-of-age’ story, placed out in the streets of L.A. full of the skateboard wizards and loud rap music of that time. This is not a sweet replay of a bygone era, such as “American Graffiti”. It is more like a dirty, gritty review of that selected mid-decade – sort of an “L.A. Tagging”.
Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a thirteen-year-old living in a lower middle class area in Los Angeles. His older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) often beats up on Stevie. His single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) is rarely around and sometimes brings home guys – but they only stay the night. Stevie thinks that his time needs to be spent outside the house, and he decides to find new friends. He finds them at a local skate shop on the main road near his home. He first meets Ruben (Gio Galicia), who is only few years older than Stevie. He later meets the other guys in that group, who are all good skaters. There is the somewhat slow guy named ‘Fourth Grade’ (Ryder McLaughlin), and the awkwardly named ‘Fuckshit’ (Olan Prenatt). But the best skater in the group is Ray (Na-kel Smith), who nicknames Stevie ‘Sunburn’.
Stevie hangs around and learns to skate (a little bit), but he mostly wants to hang out with these cool guys. They all trash talk to each other and to anyone around that they meet. It’s like locker room talk, but without the lockers. They teach Stevie to skate, but they also teach him the best places to hang out, how to smoke, how to drink, and basically how to deal with troubles at home. Ray always keeps in practice, and even when the others want to party and find liquor – Ray still practices his skating skills. Someday he wants to be a Pro, and skate in tournaments.
Stevie’s mother Dabney does not like the fact that he is spending too much time with his skating friends. Stevie is gaining too many bad habits to go along with his friendships. Stevie is now smoking, and drinking, and sometimes stealing money. He is taking risks, and he is getting some friendly time with girls. But because Stevie is feeling invincible, he even is starting to put down his best friend Ruben. One night when there are confrontations between Ray and Fuckshit, there are also troubles between Ruben and Stevie. But because too many of them are a little too drunk, there are some bad choices which lead to a terrible and tragic event.
Jonah Hill has done an excellent job at portraying a particular place and time. His eye for dialog is really spot on, and the supporting music fits in with certain flair. He has gathered a group of really new actors (who can also skate pretty well) and gotten a very meaning performance out of each one. The few ‘name’ actors are used quite well, also. The only major argument that I have with the story is that there is pretty big disastrous event right at the end, but nobody is held accountable. That strikes me as wrong…
“Mid90s” is reflective of the high ranking that many of the critics will be giving this movie. It is a work of passion for Jonah Hill, and he makes it come to life. Even for a short while, you feel that you know that decade and a few of those people.