mid90s trailer

Ray, a conscientious Black skater who hopes to go pro, looks out for Stevie like a younger brother. His best friend Fuckshit, a mixed-race child from a privileged background, wanders through life in search of the next party. Ruben, both the scrawniest and most outwardly, aggressively hyper-masculine, bridges the age gap between Stevie and the older teens, but eventually grows jealous of Stevie’s inclusion. And finally, Fourth Grade, the group’s quiet, lanky, Caucasian filmmaker, who remains backgrounded until the reasons for his quietness become clear. None of the walls between these kids seem to matter when they’re skating, though they’re certainly ever-present, and learning about them in the first place is part of Stevie’s education, taking him outside his white bubble for the first time. “What are ‘black people’?” he asks innocently, sitting in on his first ever discussion about race, though this small step outside the privilege of whiteness is little in comparison to the way he’s yanked into male adulthood faster than he can process.

This new male hierarchy liberates Stevie from his boring and oppressive home life. It even gives him a sense of power over Ian, who runs into Stevie’s friends and steps backward for the first time after a lifetime of charging forward at Stevie. But it also traps Stevie, molding both him and his new friends in ways that are deeply uncomfortable to witness, and yet, deeply true-to-life. Not long after Stevie’s first smoke and first beer, Hill chronicles Stevie’s first sexual experience, in the film’s most challenging scene. Stevie, like Suljic, is only twelve or thirteen. He lies about having slept around in Florida; what boy that age wouldn’t when asked about his level of experience by an older girl at a party? (a rhetorical, time-period specific question) After having ascended in status within the group, changing his attire and speech-patterns to seem older than he is, Stevie is reduced to a child once more when this girl takes his clothes off, preparing him for something he thinks he ought to do, rather than something he necessarily wants to. He crosses his feet nervously, an action re-created by Lucas Hedges in Ian’s pivotal moment of childhood regression, before the film cuts to the aftermath. En route to show off to his friends, Stevie is haunted by uncertainty. As Suljic saunters down a hallway to reunite with the group, he struggles to smile.

This marks a particular turning point for Stevie. His drunken stumble back home results in parental intervention, which only turns Stevie vicious. He drinks more. He ignores what little positive advice Ray can give him. He falls more in line with the drifting Fuckshit, whose own issues begin to clash with Ray’s skating ambitions, precipitating the group’s steady implosion. Suljic does tremendous work in Stevie’s subsequent quiet moments, turning inward as he begins to observe the darker side to the structure he’s been made a part of. Little by little, the rest of the group begins to reveal itself beyond the amorphous “cool,” as described by Stevie. Ruben’s aggression comes to light as a coping mechanism. Ray’s ambition and protection of Stevie are given their own weighty explanation (a dramatically sound one, best left for discovery while watching). And while Fourth Grade gets the short end of the stick, having his backstory and motivations explained only in words, Fuckshit’s increasingly rowdy antics, and the duplicitous albeit deeply pained motives behind them, come to light through silent glances. It’s visual drama at its finest. (Without spoiling too much, Hill even directs a particularly effective car accident using a sudden, intrusive, out-of-place flash frame, and it’s downright terrifying)

While the film has no real interest in Stevie’s mother (one of only two female characters), it keeps her two-dimensional and at arm’s length in order to contextualize her solely through the lens of motherhood as seen by frustrated teenage boys — for better or worse. And while this does result in Waterston’s role being limited, she crafts a moving performance regardless, as on might expect from her. Interestingly, Waterston and Hedges get the bulk of the melodrama, while Ray, Fuckshit, Ruben and Fourth Grade’s understated presence make them feel like they were living people picked off the street and made to re-enact their lives. Stevie’s two worlds could not feel more different, and both he and the film are far more willing to explore the group, their stories and their dynamics than that of Stevie’s domestic life. One might call this imbalance a shortcoming, even if it seems narratively intentional, but the film’s compact runtime (a brisk 84 minutes) hits the sweet spot between fully forming the skateboarder characters and their world while leaving us wanting just a little more of them and their friendship with Stevie.

While the group’s dynamic starts out hilarious, it morphs into something undeniably destructive and continues to be so for longer than is healthy for anyone involved. However Ray, the empathetic center, does eventually help Stevie move in a more positive direction. Whether skating alongside Stevie like an older sibling, or telling him to widen his perspective to accommodate the plight of others (including his mom), or gifting him a new skateboard that he tenderly assembles with his own hands while the two are illuminated by the setting sun. These instances are minor, but they’re also framed as Ray providing a kind alternative to the toxicity imparted to Stevie by the rest of the group. Mid90s is a brilliant little delight that portrays the ridiculousness of adolescent masculinity, but it’s also thoughtful enough to take it seriously, from self-destruction to the mere desire to be accepted. Suljic’s Stevie is a wonderfully crafted character, and Jonah Hill may well have written and directed a coming-of-age classic. 

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web: