It’s pretty clear that comedians seem to have some amazing and incredibly serious stories lurking deep in their hearts. Bo Burnham amazed everyone with Eighth Grade. John Krasinski scared audiences with silence in A Quiet Place. Bradley Cooper, famous for The Hangover series, brought fans to applause and tears in A Star Is Born. Now it’s Jonah Hill’s turn. In the powerhouse comedian’s writing and directing debut, he has written a love letter to ’90s skating culture. He doesn’t appear anywhere in the film, but his appreciation and dedication to this tiny glimpse of time permeates the entirety of Mid90s.
I got a chance to sit down with some of the cast of Mid90s, which was a lovely opportunity. A reporter from The Harvard Crimson and I met with and spoke to Sunny Suljic (Stevie), Olan Prenatt (Fuckshit), Ryder McLaughlin (Fourth Grade), Gio Galicia (Ruben).
What was very interesting to learn was that Prenatt, Galicia, and McLaughlin were skaters first and actors second. Suljic was interested in skating too. This, instead of acting to the movie’s detriment, helped create a relationship between the actors on and off set.
“We definitely connected right away because we all have something in common, which is skating,” Suljic said. “It’s really easy for skaters because we are all like pretty welcoming.
“We would all go eat, watch movies, and when we were shooting in the process we wouldn’t like go to the trailers and completely neglect everybody. We wouldn’t even use our phones even when we were off set so we were just interacting like humans.”
As it’s still very early in their acting careers, each of them had different ways of working on displaying their character’s emotions. McLaughlin tried to work through his emotions in the moment, especially when confronted with difficult decisions.
“I’m about to get in a car with someone who’s like really drunk and I don’t want to do that,” McLaughlin said. “But I don’t talk a lot so I’m trying to portray a lot of feelings.”
The movie opens on a still shot of a hallway—a scene that some fans might remember from the trailer. Suddenly, a young boy is thrown out of a door and slams into the wall. An older boy rushes over and begins to brutally beat him. With this violent and startling beginning, Mid90s commences. As the movie begins to shrug off the first few beats and start moving, the audience learns that the younger boy is Stevie (Sunny Suljic). His older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) feels like a typical older brother, especially for the ’90s. He wants Stevie to stay out of his room and away from his stuff. Sunny, a typical younger brother, idolizes the “cool” things that Ian has. Music, posters, games, everything.
Mid90s follows Stevie in his search for friends, acceptance, and identity over the course of the film. He finds the family he doesn’t have with his mother and brother in a group of boys who hang out in a skate shop. Watching their friendship take root and grow is one of the best parts of the movie. Stevie gets in by trying to learn to skate after he trades his brother “anything in my room” for a crappy old skateboard. Mid90s sees Stevie through a montage of falls and curses as he tries and tries to skate in order to befriend these older kids. But it works. And it’s heartwarming to see. The leader of the group, Ray (Na-Kel Smith), begins to take him under his wing, teaching him to skate better and making him a real skateboard.
The film is quintessentially ’90s. Members of the audience would gasp or murmur at various songs and items featured in the movie. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, centerfolds, and Flaming Lips music helped to center this movie in its setting. The clothing style, skater culture, and the lack of cellphones in a time that seems modern nails it down.
Hill made sure that the actors were immersing themselves in the culture too.
“He gave us iPods,” Galicio said. Not even iPhones.
“iPods with 168 songs,” Suljic said. Prenatt and Smith had to learn the lyrics to one of these ’90s songs and sing it for a scene that eventually wasn’t used. When asked what song it was, the guys began to laugh.
“It’s a little inappropriate,” Prenatt said. “It’s called ‘Put It In Your Mouth.’”
But the most striking aspect of ’90s culture that Mid90s features is the blatant homophobia. Many people forget that youth culture only 20 years ago (and even today) was intensely homophobic. Ruben is constantly telling Stevie not to do things because they would be “gay”—slurs are often used in place of that word. While the ’90s are often revered by younger generations that grew up in or at the end of them, Mid90s reminds us that it was not all good.
Fortunately, skating today is a lot “kinder,” according to the guys.
Mid90s keeps up this hard look at the culture as Stevie starts to drink and do drugs along with the older boys and their friends. At one point, a very uncomfortable scene involving Stevie and an older girl plays out. It’s clear that, in today’s understanding of assault and consent, this scene is deeply flawed. It seems that Mid90s knows this, but it also stays true to the culture of time when Stevie’s encounter is celebrated as a success of masculinity.
Mid90s is, however, a very beautiful movie to watch. It’s not full of bright or vibrant colors—it just so accurately captures an era and setting that it’s aesthetically pleasing. The actors in Mid90s take a few scenes to find their feet and stretch out the tightness, but they soon find their stride. This is especially impressive since, aside from Hedges and Suljic, they are skaters first and actors second.
Mid90s is a very short movie, but that’s not a mark against it. It’s short because the story it tells isn’t a long story, and it doesn’t drag its feet. While it’s been released in the heart of awards season and is an A24 movie, it’s unlikely that this film will be nominated. Nevertheless, Mid90s is a great movie and a great time capsule in the modern day.
Featured Image by A24 Films