“Mid90s” Will Leave You Wanting to Go Back to the Mid-90s - Even If You’ve Never Lived It
By Noah Liedtke
“Mid90s” is comedian Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, and it acts as a time capsule to 90’s skater counterculture. The film was released on Oct. 19 in select theaters throughout the country, but its world premiere was at the Toronto International Film Festival the week prior. Due to the relatively small scale of the release and lack of advertising, the theater I saw the film in (AMC River East 21) was nearly empty. However, the majority of people who did show up were skaters: more than a few teens brought their boards with them. There were also two people outside the entrance to the theater from ERm Research, a marketing company, passing out surveys for viewers to fill out, consisting of questions about demographics and the movie itself.
“Mid90s” is a period piece first and coming-of-age story second. Set in the summer of 1996, the story is told through the eyes of the main character Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a shy 13-year old boy looking for an escape from his dysfunctional home. The film opens with a shot of a hallway that lingers for a bit too long, and is interrupted by Stevie being thrown into the hallway and beaten up by his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). The next shot shows Stevie sneaking into Ian’s room and taking notes on everything in it. Stevie is searching for a role model, but does not find it at home - he finds it at a local skate shop. Stevie admires the group of teen boys that hang around the shop and hangs around until he is welcomed into the group. Affectionately given the nickname “Sunburn” by ringleader Ray (Na-kel Smith), he starts skating with them.
Once Stevie is welcomed into the group, the film progresses in a slice-of-life style detailing their adventures. With the hopeful skating professional Ray, videographer Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), resident kid Ruben (Gio Galicia), and the burnout nicknamed after an expletive (Olan Prenatt), we see Stevie become immersed in the skating subculture. Stevie lands his first ollie and goes to his first party, and is portrayed in a positive fashion. However, we also see the downsides of his newfound identity through his later interactions with his mom and brother. We see his brother tell him he is messing up and his mom becomes more concerned for him and who he is hanging out with. She goes into the skate shop and yells at the rest of the boys when he comes home bleeding after accidentally skating off of a roof. Despite his family’s concern, Stevie keeps skating with his crowd. All these moments are interrupted by skating montages of the character doing tricks, jumping stairs, and cruising down the middle of a street.
The story comes to a climax at a party behind the skate shop, where Ray meets professional skaters who may sponsor him. Due to tensions brewing between himself and Prenatt’s character, as well as Stevie and Ruben, a fight occurs. After the party, Prenatt’s character tries to convince the group to go to another party despite the tension, and Ray reluctantly agrees. On the way there they get into a car crash, which is one of the standout sequences in the film. As we see the driver start falling asleep, we hear the sound of passing cars get louder and fade away. As the camera focuses on the quiet Fourth Grade asking to pull over, the screen goes black and flashes with a frame of him screaming, and it returns to black. It then cuts to the interior of the car, showing the panic of the boys at Stevie’s apparent death. We then see a disturbing image of Stevie being resuscitated, and he wakes up in his hospital room with his brother. His friends were all asleep in the waiting room, and with the permission of his mom, they visited Stevie. The movie closed with Fourth Grade playing the video he's been working on throughout the movie, and in true skate video fashion, we see the adventures the group went on through a circle lens.
Although the plot may seem contrived at times, “Mid90s” remains a significant film. The movies serves as a portal to the 90s, from the outfits the characters wear (skater brands such as Blind, Girl, and Chocolate) to the soundtrack comprised of Bad Brains, Herbie Hancock, and Nirvana. The film does not detract from the bad sides of the subculture, but it provides an accurate perception of the world at the time.
When I asked the large group of teen boys sitting in the back of the theater what they thought of the film, one said “It was fine, but I think we overhyped it because we skate.” Overall, “Mid90s” provides nostalgia for everyone, regardless of if you lived in the 90s or have never stepped on a skateboard in your life.