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Mid90’s: Growing Up With Jonah Hill

Jason Fehrnstrom, Opinions Editor

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The most beautiful thing about “coming of age” films is that they have the capacity to resonate with disparate audiences, regardless of where, when and how the film takes place. Conceivably, the literal content of the film could be alien to the viewer; yet, if the process of identity formation and growing up is captured, the film obtains a universal quality that can resonate with diverse audiences.


The film Mid90s, which made its circuit this past week in the Clark University Film Club, quintessentially captures this aforementioned principle. It is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill, who previously had a successful career as an actor in several comedy and drama films.

The film follows Stevie, a curious, energetic young teenager who lives in a dysfunctional home with a resentful, lonely older brother and a single mother, as he navigates the skateboarding culture of Southern California.


During the initial stages of the film, Stevie’s older brother is the object of his fascination. His brother’s impressive collection of hip-hop CD’s and fashionable sneakers opens Stevie up to emerging subcultures in the United States.


However, Stevie’s affection is not reciprocated; his brother is obsessively territorial about his belongings, manipulative and abusive. These rejections and disappointments compel Stevie to venture beyond the four walls of his home in search of social belonging.


As he wanders around town, he stumbles upon a group of brash, comical, and carefree skateboarders who meet at a local skate shop. In spite of his relatively young age, Stevie starts to tag along with this group of misfits as they search for adventure on the streets of California.


Interestingly, Hill took what some in the film industry would call a risk as he determined the correct cast of actors to play these characters. He recruited real skaters from a skateboarding and clothing collective named Illegal Civilization.


Skaters such as Na-kel Smith, who took on serious, emotionally nuanced roles, had never had previous acting experience. However, the risk paid off; the choice of real skaters renders a quality of authenticity that would be missing if b-list actors took up these roles.


Stevie perhaps grows up too fast as he begins to integrate into this crew. He is exposed to cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, prescription medication, driving while under the influence, police encounters, and sex before he even begins puberty.


There is a sense of danger, anger and desperation in this group too. Hill adds a surprisingly rich amount of detail to each of these characters in a remarkably short running time of 85 minutes. These children lives are emblematic of several regrettable social trends.

Some characters avoid home entirely, so as not to risk seeing their parents in the throes of mental health crises and addiction. Stevie’s exposure to these lived experiences widens his perspective and aids him in cultivating an understanding of the larger world.


A harmless, innocent childlike curiosity regarding the larger world compelled Stevie to consort with this group of skaters. This curiosity begets positive and negative results. His adventures are neither wholly negative or positive. However, they do aid him in discovering truths and realities about the world and his position in it.


Mid90s is a poignant tale about contradiction that lies at the heart of growing up. People need to proceed through the necessary phases of personal development; however, in order to do so, they may need to risk their safety, emotional comfort, and make questionable choices. Viewers of this movie may never have run around the streets of Los Angeles skateboarding and listening to old-school hip hop. However, through this film,  it is certain that they will be able to.

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Mid90’s: Growing Up With Jonah Hill