One of the first lessons that you learn when being taught how to write stories is to write what you know. That is exactly what writer/director Jonah Hill did with Mid90s. He is someone who grew up skateboarding in – you guessed it – the mid-1990s, so he made a movie about skateboarders during this time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hill is able to capture this whole setting extremely well. He shot it in a 4:3 aspect ratio, played his favorite music from the 90s as the soundtrack, and just captures the period in an authentic and visual way. His ability to channel this time is part of what makes the movie work as well as it does.
But the ability to capture a time period does not make a movie inherently good – even if there haven’t been many films made that are nostalgic for this time period yet. The ideas that Mid90s explores are what bring it home.
These ideas are vast, big, far-reaching, and deep. Hill explores some more than others, but each one of them seems to have some sort of special importance in his mind. With the main character being a 13 year-old boy in Los Angeles, there is the chance to explore maturation, friendship, race and age dynamics, familial bonds, drugs and alcohol, poverty, gender, and general life struggles.
In a lot of situations, Hill mixes the themes and explores the dynamics of all of these different kinds of relationships at the same time. And that is the main point of the movie – to explore how people from different walks of life and different backgrounds relate to each other.
All of this is examined through the lens of skateboarding. In a dynamic similar to that of The Sandlot, there is a group of five teenagers who just love to skate. They get together every day during the summer and escape what they have going on at home, or the other problems that they have in their lives. This creates a unique bond between the five of them. Even though there is constant banter and often-disrespectful conversation, they are together. They’re learning about themselves and about the world through their interactions and endeavors.
Most of these themes really come to a head at the end of the movie, so I won’t get too deeply into them for the sake of spoilers. But they are all handled with care. Most of them are just presented so that the audience can think about them for themselves, but at other times, specific ideas are presented in a way that should hit the viewer pretty hard. For instance, the most important quote in the movie comes from the character of Ray. He says, “A lot of the time we feel our lives are the worst. But I think if you look in anyone else’s closet, you wouldn’t trade their [stuff] for your [stuff]. So it’s good.” This gets at the heart of Mid90s’ message: life is tough. But it’s not just tough for you. Make sure you’re there for other people, because you never know when you might need them to be there for you.