A young teenager starts hanging out with older kids who introduce him to skateboarding culture as he struggles to find himself.
An Ode To Its Time;
Excellent Music Choices;
Good Debut Feature.
I was intrigued to see what Jonah Hill would have in store for his debut as a writer-director, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. He has fully-realized his world of mid-90s Los Angeles, from the look to the attitudes, fashion and music. As coming-of-age tales go, this isn’t entirely new territory, but what makes it so watchable is how incredibly relatable it is. Sure, most of us may know nothing about skateboarding culture or what life was like in that city and time frame, but who can’t identify with the awkward stages of early teenage life? Who doesn’t remember what it was like to try and fit in with cooler, older kids? Didn’t we all have a time of trying to adopt the slang, clothes and basic identities of others while we tried to find ourselves in the world? It is these ideas, as well as the wonder of seeing a big world through a small point of view, that keeps this film going forward.
There isn’t a lot of plot to the script, and I thought it needed some work in parts, but don’t want to give anything away. The characters are all their own people with distinct traits, and even those without a lot of screen time come across as well-rounded despite the short running time. I really enjoyed Lucas Hedges in the role of emotionally-stunted big brother Ian, and Sunny Suljic carries the weight of the film very well as Stevie. And for what it’s worth, Olan Prenatt is wildly entertaining as the foul-mouthed Fuckshit, quasi-leader of the group of misfits searching for the next trail to blaze and party to hit. Hill is adept enough in the director’s chair to give his actors a sense of what he needs from them while staying out of their way. He isn’t trying to impress a visual style, as he is more interested in transporting you back to that time and place and he succeeds wildly.
I enjoyed the fact that it felt like a stripped-down production, shot in a flat and thin aspect ratio to show the narrow viewpoint of teenagers, focused only on what their blinders don’t obscure. The big story for most people will be the music, and rightfully so. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver another wonderful score, but the real story will be the soundtrack that overpowers it. The songs selected provide a great window into the hip hop scene at the time, but the music goes beyond that as well (and kudos to Hill and A24 for coming up with such an innovative release strategy) and compliments the film beautifully. This is far from a perfect movie, but it’s a great first step in a possible new role for Hill moving forward.