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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘Mid90s’ prioritizes style over substance

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Photo by Creative Commons

Actor Lucas Hedges has made a name for himself recently, but his acting range was underutilized in “Mid90s,” according to Cole Fowler.

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s,” centers around 13-year-old Stevie and his skateboarding friends during the 1990s. Hill attempts to bring life to what he sees as a marginalized social group, but fails to depict the skateboarding community as anything other than preexisting stereotypes.
As the title implies, the focal point of the film rests in nostalgia for the aesthetics of the time period rather than the relationships between the characters. The film is shot on 16mm film with a 4:3 aspect ratio, giving the movie a beautiful look. This is one of the only great directorial decisions Hill made during this project. It’s reminiscent of the low-budget, direct-to-VHS skateboarding films of the 90s, and this feeling is what justifies watching the film.
Hill is quick to copy Richard Linklater’s famous style of the “hangout” film, which focuses heavily on the interpersonal conversations between characters rather than following a traditional plot. Linklater became famous for this style in the 1990s with films such as “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker” and “Before Sunrise,” so it’s no surprise that Hill would want to follow suit.
However, despite using Linklater’s style, Hill struggles to write dialogue that convinces the audience of the relationships between the characters. The first half of the film barely manages to convincingly connect the characters in any way, and in the second half, Hill tries too hard to force the characters into conversations that do not reflect the relationships he attempted to create in the first.
Hill’s characters are probably the most irritating aspect of his film. It becomes obvious early on that Hill is genuinely attempting to give this demographic a voice in the film. However, Hill does so by depicting each character in the most cliché way possible. Each character feels stolen right off the screen of other, more complete films. Hill’s screenplay just doesn’t fit with the characters or time period he is attempting to convey.
Hill’s filmmaking naiveté also comes into play with his lack of ability to utilize the brilliant acting range of Lucas Hedges, who plays Ian. Hedges has started to make a name for himself and has had some of the greatest performances in recent memory with his work in “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird,” “Boy Erased” and “Ben is Back.” However, Hill failed to give the rising star another brilliant performance as he heavily underutilized Hedges’ acting range.
As this is Hill’s directorial debut, it’s no surprise that the film really struggles to say anything new about this time period or the skateboarding movement. To be fair to Hill, there are far more experienced filmmakers who have also depicted the LA skateboarding scene, so he was coming up against heavy competition. Some credit should be given to Hill for attempting this project, but if you’re looking for a great skateboarding movie, stick with films by more experienced filmmakers, such as Catherine Hardwicke’s “Lords of Dogtown.”
Cole Fowler is an English sophomore and Life & Arts reporter for The Battalion.

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