Entertainment company A24 and coming-of-age stories have become synonymous following the production of films like “Lady Bird,” “Eighth Grade” and “20th Century Women.” While all these films may take place during different time periods, the theme of finding a sense of belonging is evident in each one. The same can be said for A24’s newest film and Jonah Hill’s directorial debut “Mid90s,” a heart-wrenching look at the skate culture of the ‘90s.
Sunny Suljic plays Stevie, a 13-year-old boy who finds refuge from his troubled home life in a group of skaters who likewise seek a similar sense of freedom.
The theme of escapism through skateboarding is the fulcrum of this film. Scenes of the misfits skating help bring the audience back to simpler times. As the film goes on, the spectre of responsibility looms over the group’s head, leading to scenes of vibrant discourse within the group.
These scenes would not have worked if it were not for Hill’s natural and masterful work behind the camera. He constantly lets the camera sit on the actions of the characters, creating many long static shots. This lets the audience digest every minute detail of the scene, taking in every emotion the characters are experiencing.
He also employs dialectical montage and creates an almost identical effect to the static shots — a technique best used when Hill also implements music. This combination leads to a music video-type feeling of raw emotion, similar to ‘90s MTV videos.
This emotion carries over to almost every performance in the film. Sunny’s Stevie is minimalistic but incredibly effective. The shy shell of introversion is broken with every interaction with his new group of friends. Every action and its repercussions can be seen through his thoughtful execution of reactionary expressions of joy, remorse and determination. The subtle character growth creates incredible scenes of rebellion that pull on the heartstrings.
The skaters Stevie aligns himself with also bring the same subtilty to their performance. Ray, the leader of the group, is played by Na-kel Smith who creates an aura of morality around his character that offers levity to the extremes of the film. There is a monologue he executes near the final act of the film that is so genuine and real one can become completely lost in his character.
Olan Prenatt’s character Fuckshit is defined by his carefree attitude and reckless abandon. Ray and Fuckshit show two different mindsets of skate culture and create an interesting conflict through their naturalistic performances.
The best performance throughout the film is Lucas Hedges’ Ian. Hedges plays the bully brother perfectly while showing a vulnerability and complexity through his small gestures and glances toward his brother Stevie.
This film is ultimately a story of brotherhood and through the impressive camerawork and natural performances, Hill was able to put together a story that is relatable, funny and heartbreaking. It will be hard not to think about the carefree summers and childhood friendships while viewing this incredibly nostalgic love letter to skate culture and the ‘90s as a whole.
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