Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s,” is a typical coming-of-age drama. While the movie is set in the mid-1990s and focuses on skateboarding as a way for the main character to grow as a person, it’s still a pretty average plot.
However, the story of self-discovery is carried by very entertaining cinematography and score as well as impressive acting from a relatively unknown cast. Despite these effective elements, the film ends up with a really unclear message and a very weak ending.
The most impressive part of this movie was the cast. A vast majority of the actors in “Mid90s” are actually professional skateboarders with little to no acting experience. Sunny Suljic, who plays the lead character Stevie, was pretty much unknown before starring as Atreus in “God of War,” a video game released earlier this year. Despite the general lack of experience in the cast, the performances are incredibly interesting and believable.
Na-Kel Smith in particular is incredibly charming as Ray, the de facto leader of the group of skateboarders. The characters all have quirks and flaws that make them feel like actual teenagers, which makes this movie feel very real. The dialogue, which is often witty and profane, reminded me a lot of my own experience as a young teen, which helped me connect to Stevie’s character.
Although this is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, the movie is shot with a lot of style. It uses a lot of wide shots, particularly in scenes where the characters are hanging out and skateboarding. Long takes are used to show off fancy tricks and let the viewer enjoy peaceful downhill glides.
Skateboarding is used as a major part of Stevie’s story. It’s the thing that introduces him to his group of friends. The cinematography really emphasizes the sense of freedom and companionship that it gives him.
Unfortunately, the performances and fancy shooting aren’t enough to carry the whole movie. In the end, I’m still not entirely sure what the point of “Mid90s” actually was. While Stevie experiences a lot over the course of the movie and receives many small kernels of wisdom from those around him, there’s no real lesson to be learned in the end.
Besides learning how to skateboard and getting into some trouble with his group of friends, I don’t feel like Stevie changed much from the beginning of the film to the end. The same goes for the other members of the group, who all either have goals that are never reached or major flaws that are never solved.
My biggest issue with the movie, by far is the ending. Without giving away what happens, I’ll just say that the final part of the movie feels like it comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the rest of the story.
A serious event happens, which should have very serious consequences for Stevie and his friends, but it gets turned into an upbeat moment of camaraderie and friendship. The worst part of this is that the cause of the event has nothing to do with Stevie, and so he learns absolutely nothing from an experience that should be central to his development.
“Mid90s” is a realistic story of a young boy coming-of-age through his love of skateboarding. The cast is incredibly believable, and Jonah Hill’s direction highlights both their skateboarding experience and fantastic acting.
Unfortunately, it all feels wasted in a movie without a clear message, theme or purpose. The characters don’t learn or solve anything, and so I was left feeling let down by them rather than entertained.
The movie has some really cool tricks, but it wipes out and spoils the whole ride.