Jonah Hill makes his directing debut with "Mid 90s"
Comic actor Jonah Hill grew up in L.A. in the mid 90s, so for his directorial debut, it’s no wonder the 34-year-old stayed close to home and to familiar material.
"Mid 90s" is - at its core - a coming of age story about 13-year-old Stevie (played by 13-year-old actor/skateboarder Sunny Suljic in his first leading role). Taking place in mid 90’s L.A summer, Stevie’s home life is volatile – living with his single and emotionally unavailable mother Darbey (played by Katherine Waterston) and enduring constant and violent beatings from his troubled older brother Ian (played by academy award nominee Lucas Hedges).
Searching for solace and a sense of belonging, Stevie wanders over to Motor Avenue in downtown L.A. and finds group of skateboarders who he follows to a skateshop. While pretending to browse through a rack of t-shirts, Stevie eavesdrops on the eclectic group of friends, who aren’t much older than Stevie, but a world away and immersed in the local skateboard sub culture.
Stevie returns to the shop the next day, with his pink power ranger skateboard tucked under his arm, hoping to assimilate and be accepted into the skater boy clique. The youngest of the group – Ruben (played by newcomer Gio Galicia) – sees an opportunity to pass of his lackey duties to the new kid. Thrilled to be acknowledged – and accepted – Stevie is eager to please his new friends.
As the days go on, Stevie joins in the skateshop banter and eventually earns the nickname “sunburn” . The group of misfits – which include the much older Ray (played by Na-Kel Smith), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and the ringleader whose nickname I can’t say on air (played by Olan Prenatt). The skaters take Stevie under their wing, teaching him how to skate, where to hang out, how to smoke, drink and how to hook-up with older girls.
The story takes a poignant turn as Stevie discovers his new friends are not as perfect as they seem as each faces challenges similar to his own.
In his first experience behind the camera, Hill succeeds crafting an authentic and touching film, featuring strong performances by a relatively unknown cast comprised of actual skaters. According to Hill, the story isn't autobiographical, but is based on experiences he had as a young teen skateboarding and listening to hip-hop in 1990s L.A.
Rated R for (for language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images - - all involving minors), Mid 90s runs 84 minutes and is set to an awesome soundtrack curated by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
While the film may not be for everyone, it’s a must see for fans of Hill and those nostalgic for the mid 90s skateboard scene.
This is Linda Jager with the KPCW Friday Film Review, sponsored by the Park City Film Series.