Jonah Hill makes his directorial debut with Mid90s, the story of a kid who finds his place in a rag-tag crew of skaters in Los Angeles. Sunny Suljic plays Stevie, who escapes his life with his abusive brother (Lucas Hedges) by hanging out at an LA skate shop. As Stevie bonds with his new friends he makes some questionable choices; these kids are all just trying to find their way.
Many of the film’s characters are played by real Los Angeles skaters. While Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, and Ryder McLaughlin have big fanbases in skateboarding, as actors they’re neophytes. That could easily change after people see Mid90s, however, because the film turns them, along with Suljic, into stars.
First up, let’s talk about Sunny Suljic. The young actor has two big roles this fall. He plays a pivotal supporting character in The House With the Clock in iIts Walls, which is in theaters now. There, he’s more of a cool kid than in Mid90s, but the new movie does far more to show off his acting chops.
Suljic gets to be super-vulnerable in Mid90s. Stevie isn’t happy with his life at home, especially since his volatile older brother tends to pummel him for any perceived slight. His mom (played by Katherine Waterston) cares for him deeply, but immersed in her own problems.
So when Stevie begins to see the skateboard as his vehicle to freedom, everything changes. Being accepted by new friends is good, but as the youngest kid in a teenage crew that likes to drink, smoke weed, and break into dangerous places to skate, Stevie quickly finds himself in over his head.
The Rising Star
Mid90s is not, however, a tale of a good kid gone bad. Stevie needs guidance, and so do his new friends. Some even try to provide it for one another.
24-year old Na-kel Smith shines as Ray, the oldest of the bunch of skate shop kids Stevie falls in with. Ray is quiet, but he’s been around. He’s close to landing a sponsorship or team affiliation that might push his career forward, but he takes time to help out Stevie, who he even seems to admire.
Smith has skated around Los Angeles for several years; you can see him in a wide variety of skate videos, including ones with the Supreme team. He designs clothes, and has partnered with companies like Adidas. Smith also makes music; he had early guest spots on tracks by Odd Future crew rappers Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.
Smith’s ability to be quietly present in scenes makes him the standout new performer in Mid90s. Even when he’s not the focus of a scene he ends up looking like an integral part of the moment. He always feels genuine, which might seem easy when playing a character that seems like the person he really is — but it is not easy at all.
The Best Friend
If you’ve seen videos with Na-Kel Smith you might have also caught his fellow LA skate star Olan Prenatt. The Los Angeles native has been on a board since he was just a kid (like Stevie in the film) and is now part of the Illegal Civilization team. He works as a model as well. (His insanely good hair doesn’t hurt that job at all.)
Prenatt and Smith have known each other for years, and Jonah Hill takes advantage of their natural friendship and chemistry for Mid90s. Prenatt’s character is — well, we can’t properly print his name, F*cksh*it, but that name tells you a lot about the guy. He’s the more loose, easygoing companion to Na-kel Smith’s character Ray, but he’s so loose he’s prone to creating trouble for himself, and he’s starting to feel pangs of jealousy as his friend keeps an eye on a career that could change their dynamic in a big way.
The Rest of the Crew
As Fourth Grade, the member of the crew who constantly films his friends, Ryder McLaughlin doesn’t get a lot of lines, but is a constant welcome presence. McLaughlin is part of the Illegal Civilization crew along with Prenatt, so he naturally fits into the film’s friend group. He also plays himself on the fourth season of HBO’s Ballers.
Gio Galicia, who plays Ruben. Until Stevie shows up, Ruben is the promising young kid in the skate group, and he doesn’t take lightly to having his position usurped. And Alexa Demie plays in a couple key scenes where Stevie has intense new experiences. She’s been in Showtime’s Ray Donovan, Netflix’s The OA and Love, and the film Brigsby Bear.
Together, this group makes up an attention-getting crew for Mid90s. Watching the film is, perhaps appropriately, like seeing one of the great 1990s indies that turned actors like Chloe Sevigny, Julianne Moore, and Steve Buscemi into actors we were dying to see more of. We can’t wait to see what the cast of Mid90s does next.
Mid90s ollies into theaters on October 26.