Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin in Mid90s.
Jonah Hill meticulously crafted Mid90s, his directorial debut, which premiered in October of this year. The film triumphs in its authenticity. The characters make skate videos and use slurs accepted in that era, nineties boom bop rap dominates the soundtrack, and hell, Christopher Blauvelt, the cinematographer, even shot the film in 4:3 aspect ratio. Although these details combine to create the aesthetic of the setting, the film truly hinges on the performances of the young actors playing the skaters the film follows. Mid90s serves as the only acting credit in the filmography of many of the film’s actors. Primarily considering themselves skaters, they bring a true legitimacy to the film. The kids themselves skate in wide angles, not body doubles with obvious closeups of feet pushing against the ground. The performances themselves breathe life into the film, helping it escape genre tropes and a sense of sterility that would prohibit the film from capturing a specific time and place.
A few other journalists and I recently had the opportunity to talk with a few of the stars of the film over the phone. I talked to Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, and Ryder McLaughlin, who in the film play Fuckshit, Ruben, and Fourth Grade respectively. Their passion for skating shined through, even over the phone. While not the most media-trained, the actors and skaters talked with honesty and charm; they were clearly enjoying the ride of the film releasing. One could easily picture the immense chemistry the kids had on set based on the way they interacted with each other on the call. Their banter clearly revealed the bond they formed during the shooting of the film. Throughout the runtime of Mid90s, the protagonist joins a group of friends who quickly become his family. Chatting with the kids proved that the familial bond formed transcended the screen; at the end of the call, the actors all inquired when and where they would reunite in person.
As for specifics of the interview, the actors clearly took a lot of pride in their work on the film. They all encouraged moviegoers to approach the film with an open mind as opposed to simply writing off the film due to its language. In the promotion of the film, most trailers even contained explicit language. Jonah Hill himself commented on this issue during his appearance on The Tonight Show, admitting the difficulty in finding clips clean enough to broadcast on television. As Hill has echoed in his interviews, the kids defended the language of the film. They talked about Hill making sure they shared his creative vision of recreating the era. The film truly feels as though the audience is experiencing a specific point of view in a specific time and place, a vision that the first-time director managed to instill not only in these actors, but also the whole crew involved in the production. For references on the desired aesthetic of the film, Hill had the crew watch the film This is England to convey the naturalistic cinematography and acting he envisioned for Mid90s. He also showed them various skate videos from the era, similar to the one Ryder McLaughlin’s character, Fourth Grade, produces in the film.
In our conversation, the kids blurred the line between actor and skater, adding to their charm. They all emphasized how much they enjoyed the experience of shooting a film. When asked what in particular they learned from the production, the actors said they learned the value of taking opportunities and gaining new experiences. When asked about skating, they livened up as though one of us had just mentioned their favorite obscure indie band. They mentioned how they became fascinated with the differences between current skating culture and that of the nineties. In particular, they mentioned that while they grew up with skate parks, the characters they play in the film resort to skating wherever they can. Whereas skaters of their generation have been granted their own spaces, the characters of the film regularly get chased away by police when skating in self-designated makeshift parks. Though from different eras, the shared passion for skating between the fictional characters and the real actors make Mid90s an impressive piece of cinema that values authenticity and realness over Hollywood clichés and sanitization. A truly great skating movie should be about skating, a thing these kids know quite well.
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