This year Glasgow Film Festival opens up with Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s
This year Glasgow Film Festival opens up with Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s. Shot in 4:3 on 16mm film, Hill attempts to create a 1990’s retro aesthetic. The result: a film exuding nostalgia, however meandering the storyline. He has even stated that he hopes to never shoot on digital film in order to avoid his work from looking like an “Instagram filter”.
Home-video footage is such a prominent feature of skateboarding culture that Hill could scarcely avoid incorporating this style element into his directorial debut. Having auditioned actors, Hill scrapped this and decided instead to head to the skatepark and find actual skaters to complete the originality of his film. All this is an attempt to create a completely honest piece. With Hill having grown up in the skate scene of 1990s West Los Angeles, it’s evident that it has come from an authentic place and truly means something to him.
The soundtrack is the epitome of a 1990s skate film. From a Tribe Called Quest, to Wu-Tang Clan to ESG, Hill wanted to show how hip-hop was the emotional backbone to his adolescent years by creating a soundtrack that was a taste of his generation. The result is a perfect amalgamation of skating subculture between then and now. The very noticeable use of sound effect throughout the movie combine with the heavy soundtrack to create a heady, auditory cinematic experience.
Despite having no formal acting training, Sunny Suljic, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia and Ryder McLaughlin provide standout performances. This bunch of misfit characters, all with various ailments in their backstories, provide a dysfunctional yet comforting alternative to Stevie’s (Suljic’s) homelife.
Although the acting is incredibly impressive – not to mention the obvious and real chemistry between the group – it is unclear what Hill is attempting to actually achieve with this film. Without a doubt it is brutally honest, but it is also its rawness that is perhaps its downfall. Films undoubtedly do not have to be comfortable to watch, however Mid90s is excessive in its use of problematic language and makes for a particularly tough watch at times.
Instead of using difficult language and adolescent drug-taking to make a point, it instead simply desensitizes the audience by the end of the movie. Fuckshit (Prenatt) delivers the brunt of it, and by the closing credits I just didn’t really care for him. It’s all just a bit excessive. Nevertheless, Ray (Smith) provides a voice of reason throughout and also provides the standout performance of the whole film. Ray and Fuckshit both start with the same fire and passion for skateboarding, however Fuckshit loses this fire and ends up only caring about getting loaded and partying. His actions still affect the others in the group and even potentially hinder Ray’s dreams of going pro. All this seems to be for nothing and sits perhaps uncomfortably close to the real-life events of Dogtown and Z-boys’ skater Jay Adams.
It isn’t the groups inability to act – like I say, they all provide stunning performances – but instead Hill’s screenplay. Hill took four years to write it, but the result seems to be a piece that balances apprehensively between a 1990s skate documentary and a story that perhaps parallels his own experiences.
Nevertheless, the film is still worth watching. It is evident what Hill is attempting to create and it’s also his first attempt. Directorially, he has managed to make an aesthetically coherent film that captures the iconic culture of skateboarding. The young and inexperienced actors Hill casts are incredible and I doubt it is the last we will see of them. What lets Mid90s down is the ambling and overly difficult writing of the screenplay. I haven’t seen a film in a long time that has left me so conflicted when the end credits roll.