Exploring Nostalgia and Coming-of-Age in Mid90s

Anastasia Fabian ’26 in Arts | May 28, 2023

American Cinematographer Chirs Blauvelt once said that “One of the beauties of film is that it gives you a passport to a period.” The film Mid90s is an accurate representation of Blauvelt’s words, as it will teleport watchers straight to the ’90s. This nostalgic movie follows the life of a lonely 13-year-old, Stevie, living in 1990s-era Los Angeles with his abusive brother Ian and single mother, Dabney. One day, Stevie watches as a group of skateboarders fool around in front of a skate shop, finding himself intrigued by their mannerisms. The next day, without hesitation, Stevie returns to the shop with a skateboard that he begged his brother for. The film follows Stevie as he deals with neglect and abuse from his family while he struggles to fit in with his new group of skater friends. Stevie’s journey of discovering true belonging leads him to an unexpected fate, making viewers ask, “Who will be there when I need them to be?” 
Directed by Jonah Hill and produced by Chris Blauvelt, Mid90s recreates an atmosphere that goes back in time. Despite being released in October 2019, the movie feels like an authentic time capsule. Chris Blauvelt made a series of well-thought-out directorial decisions to keep this movie's aesthetic consistent. Mid90s was shot on a 16 mm film, giving the movie natural lighting with a retro 4:3 aspect ratio, the same ratio found on an old box television. The movie is shot on film, reminiscent of an old VHS tape. Although Mid90s covers subjects such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, and self-harm, the movie's cinematography makes it an unusually soothing watch despite its heavy topics. Another amazing part of this film is its casting and lack of “actual actors.” Most of the central actors in this film were real-life skateboarders with little to no acting experience. This makes the film seem unscripted while also making it feel real. 
The skateboarding in the film is also authentic and impressive. During an interview hosted by Steve Prokopy, the cast of Mid90s explained how Hill wrote the script and made the film stay true to the period it is set in. Not one aspect of the movie seems out of place because Hill pushed the actors to use ’90s lingo, music, personality, and fashion as inspirations. Sunny Suljic, who plays Stevie in the film, told the interviewer, “I’m just glad skating is involved, and it shows the culture and how it’s not exaggerated. It’s subtle, and it’s not specifically about skating, but it shows what skating is about.” Suljic noted that the film showed exciting skating scenes that would truly impress any viewer. Hill made sure that the skating styles and variety of skateboards on set were chosen purposefully to stay accurate to the time period. Because of these choices, it's easy to forget that the film is not actually a reflection of “real life” when watching. If you like skateboarding, filmmaking, or even the ’90s aesthetic, make some time on your Sunday afternoon to curl up and get sucked into the ’90s by watching 85 minutes of cinematic greatness.