Growing Pains

Actor Jonah Hill makes his directorial debut with Mid90s, a mini-masterpiece that turns the clock back a quarter of a century for this old school tale of growing pains. Set in Los Angeles, the pre-digital era time-frame immediately brings to mind Larry Clark’s 1995 film Kids, but in truth Mid90sis far less nihilistic. A more accurate comparison might be Crystal Moselle’s recent Skate Kitchen, as friendship, adolescence and skateboarding all hit the curb. 

Here, Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a teenager from a broken home. His single mother (Katherine Waterston) had him when she was young and is more interested in getting her own love life back on track; his brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) simply bullies and beats on him for the fun of it. With such an unfulfilling domestic life, he looks for inspiration elsewhere and he finds it amongst a group of older teens, skaters, who soon accept him as one of their own. 

While Stevie eventually acquires a secondhand board, his desire to get better and impress his peers practically bursts from him; the celebratory moment in his front yard when he finally pulls off an aerial trick is just one of the many treasures this film holds. Hill, who doesn’t appear on camera, is a former skater and is clearly drawing from his own youth, or at least an approximation of it. Indeed, the camcorder-holding gang member, nicknamed Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), might well be an amalgam of Hill and Spike Jonze. 

Nothing Hill has made as an actor will prepare you for this. Shot on Super 16, this bears all the hallmarks of a low-fi American indie that could well have been made in the 1990s, but there’s no sense of trying to be nostalgic here. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the music on the soundtrack, ranging from Philip Glass to The Mamas & The Papas, rings out and rings true. The arc of Stevie’s narrative is small, but that’s just why Mid90s will appeal. There’s no skateboard competition to be won or cheerleader to be romanced…just some growing up to be done. 

James Mottram

Mid90sopens on 12 April. For more details, visit Altitude Film.

1. All stills from
Mid90s. Courtesy of Altitude Film.