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  mid90s Sk8r Bois
Year: 2018
Director: Jonah Hill
Stars: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kell Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughin, Alexa Demie, Fig Camila Abner, Llana Perlich, Ama Elsesser, Judah Estrella Borunda, Mecca Allen, Aramis Hudson, Sonny Greenback, Harmony Korine
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a Los Angeles kid on the cusp of his teenage years who lives with his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), the latter of whom regularly beats him up, taking out his frustrations on this helpless little boy. This has left Stevie feeling isolated, so he starts looking around for someone to latch onto and alights on a small group of skateboarders who hang out in a skater shop, selling boards and fashion items to the customers in between taking to the concrete and trying out their moves. At first Stevie eavesdrops on them, but then when they start talking to him, he finds a way into their band of brothers: now he has friends.

You underestimate Jonah Hill at your peril. Initially he broke onto the Hollywood acting scene quickly typecast as the comedy fat guy, which left many seeing him in that role for ever after, but his ambitions were greater than comic relief, and "serious" acting saw him nominated for Oscars, before he began to expand his horizons by dabbling in screenwriting. Thus his first feature as director should not have caught so many audiences by surprise, yet it did, it appeared Hill had a genuine knack behind the camera (he did not act in this film) and in particular with guiding his largely young cast through performances that more than one observer noted contained real naturalism.

Others noted the documentary approach Hill tried out to tell his story - well, less a story, more a series of vignettes strung together building to a climax that seems as if it will be tragic, but as it turns out, more reassuring than you might have anticipated. It was true to point out that he was not doing too much original with his subject matter, as the coming of age genre was by now heavily overpopulated, especially in the twenty-tens, but his style was what made this stand out among the overcrowded field. Yes, there were the clich├ęs of swearing, drugs, violence, even sex to make you very uncomfortable, but recreating the nineteen-nineties setting took up most of the focus.

Predictably, the soundtrack bore a lot of the burden of the nostalgia, with some tracks more recognisable than others, and the odd one from earlier eras for contrast, but if anything this served to offer the impression that you were watching a mixtape come to life, and all the memories of finding an old one and playing it would evoke were unfolding before your eyes. The power of memory was just as important as the sense these characters were living in the now, which they were not, yet that Proustian rush was tangible in the texture of the drama and visuals as well as the tunes. You may not have been a skater boy in the nineties, in fact you probably were not, but Hill had nailed an evocative atmosphere that was easy to relate to, mostly because you could tell Stevie was a good kid and worried for his future.

Indeed, you worried for his present, as his new pals led him astray, not out of malice, but because they were experimenting with the boundaries of their youth and that could lead them down some dark corridors. Stevie is introduced to smoking tobacco at first, then alcohol, and then a harder substance, and we can see these teens are going to end up serious addicts if they rely on drink and drugs as a crutch to get them through their days. Dabney wants to bring her little one up right, but this bad influence is a tempting rival to her promises of Blockbuster night as Stevie now prefers to hone his skating skills and hang out with anybody but her; we can tell this breaks her heart a little, hence her putting her foot down about staying away from the skaters which her boy proceeds to ignore. There were laughs here, but in the main mid90s was a sympathetic view of a youngster avoiding a trap he could very well have seen end his life. Nothing preachy, though, which was its strength in getting its message across, boosting it over the overfamiliar. Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

[Released on digital platforms on 5th August and on Blu-ray and DVD on 26th August.

Altitude's DVD has a director and cinematographer commentary and a deleted scene as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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