Do two movies about teenage skateboarders released within months of the other in the same year qualify as a trend? What if both movies feature single mothers trying to keep their respective offspring out of harm’s way? If so, we have a trend.
The movies, “Mid90s” (A24), actor Jonah Hill’s feature length debut as writer/director, and Crystal Moselle’s “Skate Kitchen”, have almost as much in common as not. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is the adolescent male protagonist of “Mid90s”, whereas the lead character in “Skate Kitchen”, Camille, is female. Also, “Mid90s” is set in 1990s Los Angeles and “Skate Kitchen” is set in present-day Manhattan.
The main thing that the films have in common is the way outsiders find community within the skateboarding culture. Stevie’s 18-year-old big brother Ian (Oscar-nominee, queer actor Lucas Hedges) thinks nothing of slamming his kid brother into a wall and then sitting on top of him and pummeling him. Stevie, who doesn’t have a favorable opinion of himself is also prone to self-harm, roughly scraping his thigh with a hairbrush or trying to strangle himself with a video-game cord.
One fateful day Stevie discovers the Motor Avenue Skateshop where he overhears four friends – store employee Ray (Na-kel Smith), stoner Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), wannabe filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and young Ruben (Gio Galicia) – having a ridiculous “would you rather” conversation. Wanting to fit in, Stevie trades his videogames for Ian’s skateboard and begins teaching himself to skate. He returns to the skate-shop and eventually becomes one of the guys. This designation leads to becoming a better skater, earning a new and improved board from Ray, as well as some unpleasant habits including smoking and underage drinking. Stevie even gets invited to a party where he has his first sexual experience with a girl.
As Stevie begins to change, mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and Ian take notice, causing an increase in home-life friction. Additionally, Ruben becomes jealous of all the attention that Stevie is getting from the other guys leading to a physical altercation. Soon after tension within the circle causes friendships to fray. Sadly, it takes a near-death car accident to bring the guys together.
“Mid90s” also shares a similar aesthetic with Sean Baker’s uber-indie films “The Florida Project” and “Tangerine” in the way that it explores young people living on the fringes. However, where “Mid90s” differs the most from the queer-affirming “Skate Kitchen”, as well as Baker’s work, is the level of homophobia. This is something of which viewers should be aware. These teenage boys use the most derogatory language, labeling anything or anyone bad as gay or faggot. Yes, Hill (who played a gay man in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot”) was attempting to represent a certain segment of the youth population. Unfortunately, it’s still jarring in 2018 to hear this kind of hateful terminology spring freely from the mouths of the boys in the movie.