Thursday, October 25, 2018

First-time director Jonah Hill skates through personal little film

Who knew that Jonah Hill, the funny and chubby kid we probably first seriously noticed in Judd Apatow's coming-of-age comedy "Superbad" would be making his directorial debut only a bit more than a decade later?

Battlin' bros Hedges and Suljic find a common ground.
But now he is with "Mid90s," Hill's own small rite of passage tale, complete with his OK screenplay and a 4-3 screen ratio on 16 mm film, making viewers almost feel as if they're watching a home movie while taking part in the action themselves.

Not that there's a lot of action, anyway, in this brief, 84-minute story that plays most welcome in an era of lengthy films that never seem to know when or how to end (please take a hint, Mr. Apatow). Here, we're quickly introduced to our pint-sized protagonist, slightly built Stevie, being throttled by his ever-bullying big brother (the always capable Lucas Hedges in an offbeat role, at least for him).

With a single, working mom (Katherine Waterston) often away from home, 13-year-old Stevie needs support. So, as ingratiatingly played by Sunny Suljic, most notably from last year's oddly intriguing "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," he seeks refuge with a group of skateboarders. Uh-oh, sounds like trouble ahead on the colorful streets of L.A.

But, no, it's not so bad at all, literally and figuratively. What happens to little Stevie, mostly due to his never-say-die perseverance and hell-bent desire for acceptance, is as surprising as Hill's avoidance of cliches and outrageous comedy.

Instead, we get a few meagerly touching moments, some laughs, and a ragtag bunch of credible newcomers, including ringleader Ray (Na-kel Smith), a couple of amusingly nicknamed skaters (Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin), and Stevie's chief rival for their attention, Ruben (the similarly slim-framed Gio Galicia).

Except for a silly sexual interlude that almost derails the whole experience, helmer Hill deserves a high half-pipe and a promised peek at his next go-round behind the camera.

Rated "R": for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and some violent behavior/disturbing images involving minors; 1:24; $ $ $ out of $5

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