Mid90s, Glasgow Film Festival 2019 review Pat Byrne
Mid90s is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut – a coming of age film set in the 90s in Los Angeles. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) the main character is a thirteen year old, who lives in a lone parent household with his mum (Katherine Waterston) and older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Ian is a violent bully and young Stevie, rebuffed by his brother, switches his admiration from him, his hip hop music and sports regalia, to a group of older kids who hang out at the local skateboard shop.
The skateboarders become his new idols and the casting is perfect with Ray (Na-kel Smith) the leader of the group – a talented skateboarder who harbours ambitions of becoming a professional, Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) is his cool but reckless and irresponsible sidekick and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) is an awkward, white boy obsessed with filming everything. Ruben (Gio Galicia) is the youngest member of the group until Stevie appears and threatens Ruben’s position as the group mascot.
Gradually Stevie becomes part of the group, acquiring the nickname Sunburn. Sunny Suljic gives a fine performance and his joy in being part of the gang is palpable – he’s the master of the secret, sweet smile. It’s not all plain sailing and whilst I found myself willing Stevie on in his determination to master skateboarding tricks and immerse himself in the sub-culture, I was fearful for him as he took risks on the board and as he is introduced for the first time to alcohol, drugs and sex. His tendency towards self-harm is also disturbing.
The film has an episodic quality and provides insight into the skateboarding subculture through a variety of confrontational and social scenes. This includes when the boys meet to practice their skills, hone attitudes and, as we would say in Glasgow, show off their patter.
Jonah Hill does well capturing the jealousies, tensions, loyalty and affection to be found between the friends. There’s quite a lot where nothing much happens but the guys hanging out talking nonsense or sitting in small groups observing other skateboarders is pretty realistic.
This contrasts with some of the more dramatic skateboarding scenes. Particularly wonderful are the shots of them skating together on the big highways, these are beautiful and almost balletic. I could easily have watched more of this and the accompanying music.
If anyone had told me I would enjoy a film about young skateboarders I would have thought not. But then last year I wondered why Glasgow Film Festival had chosen a documentary, Nae Pasaran, for the closing Gala. Mid90s represents another excellent choice by the team at GFF2019.
Review Pat Byrne, February 20th, 2019.
Glasgow Film Festival runs from 20 February until 3 March, 2019
This section: Cinema, Film reviews, Film Reviews, Glasgow Film Festival 2019
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