Hill's writing and directing debut unfolds in the world of 1990s skateboarding culture

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The tribal rituals of skateboarding are celebrated with authenticity and exuberance in "Mid90s," Jonah Hill's heartfelt coming-of-age story that marks his assured debut as a writer-director.  

Hill has a deep reverence for the skating scene that translates on screen, and he makes you feel the romance of attempting your first kickflip or laying down grip tape on a board. If the story's emotional stakes are lacking, Hill makes up for it in mood and feel, and is propelled by a booming soundtrack full of on-point '90s hip-hop cues. 

Stevie (Sunny Suljic, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer") is a shy, scrawny kid in Los Angeles in the film's titular time period. Dad's not around, mom is working to make ends meet, and his admiration for his emotionally stunted older brother (Lucas Hedges, effective in bully mode) results only in brotherly beatdowns. 

So he links up with a group of skaters at the local skate shop, including Ray (Na-kel Smith), Ruben (Gio Galicia) and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin). It's not easy, but he ingratiates himself with the group, and through them Stevie finds his place in the big, bad world. 

"Mid90s" is like Larry Clark's 1995 street manifesto "Kids," but with heart. The awkward Stevie desperately wants to be cool, and Hill captures the effortless swagger that makes Ray and his friends so appealing. Stevie's not a natural skater, but Hill makes viewers invested in the minor triumphs of putting oneself out there. Stevie tries, he falls, he gets back up. And when he finally lands his first trick, you feel it.

At just 84 minutes, "Mid90s" feels brief, like a sketch rather than a full painting. But Hill is finding his footing, landing one trick at a time, and he's off to a strong start. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Mid90s'

GRADE: B

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images -- all involving minors

Running time: 84 minutes

 

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