I didn’t grow up skateboarding. I flirted with longboarding for a year in college as a failed try to be cool. I did have a skateboard, some piece of wood branded with a 90’s television character, at age seven. One day I took it to the nearby park (Shout out Ardmore Avenue). Some teenager asked to borrow it, and I most likely mumbled sure. He swiped it, and I never saw it again. I was more of a rollerblader myself before shifting focus to sports like basketball and football. But skateboarding has always been incredibly fascinating. “Lords of Dogtown” with Heath Ledger jamming out to Rod Stewart’s Maggie May at the skate shop is a scene I remember vividly. It’s movie I’ve seen about a half dozen times. Last week when Mid-90s opened nationwide, I knew it was something I needed to see.
It’s about a boy named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) trying to find his thing. He’s beginning his teenage years with a single parent, a bully as a brother and what appears to be little friends. Skateboarding becomes this tangible thing he cares about. First as an outsider, observing a group of teenagers at a skate shop before he makes a transition into an actual skater. He spends hours attempting to skate in his driveway with a kid board that reminded me of the one I had stolen from me so many years ago. He finally does an ollie and the result is pure joy and amusement. That’s the beauty of this movie.
The references to that time period make you feel like a time traveler. The ode to Street Fighter II, Sega, Ren & Stimpy and all of the music. I was born in 1992, so the movie isn’t necessarily made for me. It’s made for the 30-somethings. It’s a snap shot of what life was like during an often politically incorrect period, language that didn’t change during my teenage years in the mid 2000s. Jonah Hill has been honest in interviews. He never wanted to sugar coat the language, and it’s nasty how the teenagers talked, especially about sexuality. There are plenty of words and scenes that makes you skittish, but that’s just the reality of the time frame. It’s true to form.
You can’t have skateboarding without the music. Jonah Hill does a masterful job of selecting the right tracks to score the movie. The use of Morrissey’s “We’ll Let You Know” as the group skated downed a California highway couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s the perfect balance of happy and sad.
Jonah Hill didn’t want to use professional actors, although Lucas Hedges makes an appearance as Stevie’s older brother Ian. He wanted to use professional skateboards who learned how to act. Na-kel Smith, a truly talented skater, plays Ray, who is the character that has big dream aspirations. He’s not about the drinking, the smoking and the fooling around. He knows he wants to be a professional, and that’s evident from the jump. Stevie does these crazy things, like attempting to glide over a roof. It’s not even peer pressure, really, because his friends never told him to do it in the first place. Na-kel Smith crushes it as a sort of mentor to Stevie. In a scene, showed in the trailer Ray tells Stevie: “A lot of the time we feel like our lives are the worst, but I think if you looked in anybody else’s closet you wouldn’t trade your shit for their shit.” It’s an important scene in the movie, because it happens after Stevie has an argument with his mother. Ray goes through the group of friends that skate together, explaining to Stevie how bad some of them have it. Ruben, who Stevie feuds with throughout, gets beaten by his parents. You wouldn’t ever know it. Rarely do people wear their struggles on their sleeve, and that’s the point that Ray ties to make to Stevie about the importance of empathy.