Monday, October 29, 2018

Mid90s: Nostalgically Peeking Into The Lives of 90s Youth Skate Culture

"You're off to watch a film directed by Jonah Hill?" Upon going to watch Mid90s, I was met with raised eyebrows and skeptical faces. The truth is, I was bursting with excitement. Seeing Hill in recent years tackle roles such as a Jesus-haired guru in Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot, or more recently, the title character in the new Netflix drama, Maniac, he's proven he's come far and he's much more than just simply a funny guy from Superbad

After four years of writing Mid90s from the ground up, Hill hits us with his directorial debut, a homage to a period he grew up in. As he tells Business Insider, his goal was to always be a filmmaker. After years of paying attention to everything that happens on set, the lesson he learned was simple: don't do it until you have something to say.

The movie follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic), who is a 13-year-old living in Los Angeles in the mid-90s and has no friends. His family life is chaotic, with his mother (Katherine Waterston) working constantly and in her spare time has men coming in and out of her room. His older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges in an almost unrecognizable role), beats him on the regular, yet Stevie still somewhat looks up to him, entering his room while he's away and looking at all his things. One day, Stevie wanders around his neighborhood and comes across a group of teens at a skate shop. Listening to them interact and skate, Stevie is suddenly hooked. He comes back daily, desperately yearning to be a part of the group. The film essentially follows this pack of kids during a summer, a quick glimpse into their lives when not much had meaning, except for their strong bond and, ultimately, the breath of life that skateboarding gives them. 

Since the movie is inspired by Hill's own youth and a time that is so dear to him, he pegs the era perfectly. His period-specific details are so spot on yet so subtle, it truly seems like you're watching a relic from the 90s. From Stevie's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comforter to some Super Soakers, everything is immaculate. 

However, although the details are addictive and the audience watching is hungry for more easter eggs, Hill had a rule that he wouldn't do any "nostalgia porn." Although he included elements from the 90s, he didn't dwell on it much. When Stevie plays Super Nintendo, for example, we never get a glimpse of exactly what games are played. These touches would have made the movie cross into cheesy territory, and Hill isn't interested in that.

Another touch Hill gives the movie is having it shot with a Super 16-millimeter camera in 4:3 - the same aspect ratio found on old box TVs. This will bother some people, I personally loved it. What ends up feeling like digging up an old home film adds to the element of this movie being an artifact, a look at a simpler time.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the soundtrack, which Hill recognizes is the absolute DNA of the film. Weaving from A Tribe Called Quest, to a little known diddy by Hungarian band, Omega, to Morrissey, you don't expect the songs to blend so well together - but they do. As all coming-of-age movies, the soundtrack is utterly unforgettable. Scanning the audience, I noticed everyone was my age and grew up in the 90s. It suddenly hit me: this soundtrack would bring waves upon waves of nostalgia - and that's the point of Mid90s.

The first few moments of Mid90s immediately reminded me of Larry Clark's disturbing coming-of-age, Kids, which came out in '95. It was raw and disturbing, and the skating hooligans were brazen to the point where nothing mattered in their sad lives except drug use and lacking any sort of emotion at all. The nihilism in the teens was something never seen in a movie before, and while Hill admits he found some inspiration from the mid-90s gem, he wanted to make an anti-Kids, and give his characters some hope to keep going, as bleak as their worlds may be. That's just it, his kids aren't nihilistic. They have hope. 

While Clark's Kids was a look at a fraction of the urban youth in the 90s, Hill's film looks at the reality of most, making us beg the question: were children of the 90s even that bad? Unlike Kids, Jonah Hill remembers the 90s fondly, making us realize that it was a time even more innocent than that of which kids grow up in today - with the world at their digital fingertips.

While some people may finish the movie wondering what the point truly was, I found the lack of a concrete plot absolutely perfect. The point of the movie is the way it's made, the details and the nostalgic relics of adolescent youth, and most importantly, the soundtrack - which if it was a mixtape that these teens owned, they'd clutch to their hearts dearly. Hill achieves his purpose of capturing one lazy summer in these kids' lives,  where nothing else matters except their close bond and their boards. As one character so perfectly puts it, "That's why we ride a piece of wood. What that does to somebody's spirit." With that, Hill succeeds in putting together what he has to say and showing everyone he's a force to be reckoned with in filmmaking.

1 comment

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