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The cast of Mid90s.

When I first saw the trailer for Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, I could not believe my eyes. There is so much in this Bildungsroman to be excited about. Not only, I thought, is Jonah Hill one of my favorite actors and style icons, and not only is this film coming to us from the same great studio, A24, that brought us Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, Moonlight, and many more critically-acclaimed hits, but also many of the main actors are not actors at all: they are some of my favorite skaters currently shredding.

Yes, you heard that right. Most of this cast has never acted—something you might find hard to believe when you see the gripping performance each of them delivers. Particularly compelling is the young and charming Sunny Suljic, who plays the lead role of Stevie. His performance, never dramatic but always emotional, deep, and pensive, will blow you away. From the very first scene, in which we watch Stevie’s abusive brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) pummel him ruthlessly on the carpeted floor of a house so distinctly ‘90s you can practically smell it, we get the idea that Stevie’s life is the furthest thing from stable. Try as she might, his mother (Katherine Waterston), a single parent, struggles to be who Stevie needs her to be. His brother, on the other hand, is truly despicable towards him, manipulating and physically abusing him constantly. Indeed, Stevie seems beaten down, a kid so quiet that he appears to be afraid of his own voice.

Things begin to change when Stevie spots a gang of skaters making trouble outside a convenience store. Immediately he is drawn to them, assumingly to their complete disrespect of the status quo and authority (if anyone should have an issue with the status quo and authority figures in his life, it should be Stevie). Soon he begins to frequent their hang-out spot, a local skate shop, at first just watching from a distance. Before we know it, he is one of the group, equipped with a second-hand board bought with money stolen from his mother’s purse.

It is in Stevie’s time with this group that the best of the movie comes out. Yes, their conversations stink of toxic masculinity and repressed emotions. Yes, for the most part, they seem to be drifting through life rather than meeting it head-on. Yes, we wonder whether any of them actually do anything. But there is something so refreshingly real about their lifestyle. Their group is comprised of five people in total. Besides Sunny, there’s Ray (Na-Kel Smith), the unspoken leader of the group, a kid who says a lot with just a few words. Ray lets his skating do most of the talking, and considering he is played by one of the best skaters in the world right now, the skating is really f*cking good. Then there’s Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt)—nicknamed so because his response to any cool trick is “Fuck, shit, that was dope!”—a beautiful teen who is evidently lost in life, squandering his vast social and athletic potential in pursuit of cheap thrills, drugs, and parties. Rounding off the group are Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), a pimple-faced, awkward teen constantly clutching a camcorder, and Ruben (Gio Galicia), a troubled, often bullyish kid closest in age to Sunny, perpetually afraid to go home in fear of his abusive mother.

These young men are not actors: they are skaters, and thus it feels at times like we are watching a documentary rather than a fictional story. This speaks firstly to Jonah Hill’s meticulous attention to detail in creating an authentic 1990s setting. He sure sold me—I was fully immersed in every little detail of the film. The sets are curated with the utmost precision. Everything from the sneakers, to the skateboards, to the posters in Sunny’s room, to the storefronts appear straight out of the ‘90s. But just as important is the respect paid to skate culture. All too often does skating become a trope for old white men to butcher and exploit while making no attempt to do justice to the culture as they appropriate it. For the first time ever, I saw skate culture done right, and by Jonah Hill nonetheless. It was done right because it employed skaters as actors. At a certain level, all they had to do was be themselves. It was done right because it showed the dignity and purpose found in the stick of wood under a skater’s feet. By juxtaposing scenes of intense gravity—even ones of self-harm—against a backdrop of light, fun humor, the film reminds us that while skating is about fun, it is also about so much more than that: it is about finding a purpose. I implore all of you readers to find the nearest showing of Mid90s and go see it!

Blewett is an Undeclared Freshman.

PC: A24.

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