Ahlia Karam | 17/04/2019
This coming-of-age story is Jonah Hill’s time capsule of LA in the 90s.
Stevie, masterfully portrayed by Sunny Suljic, is angry, lonely and trying to navigate a difficult home life in his formative teen years. Riding past a downtown skate shop he stumbles upon a local crew, Ray (Na-Kel Smith), F*cksh*t (Olan Prenatt), Ruben (Gio Galicia) and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), who each have their own struggles. The crew take in this lost kid and don him as Sunburn, following a bad joke turned good. It starts off easy with Sunburn picking up tricks and earning his place, much to the dismay of Ruben. Struggling with his own broken home, Ruben feels he is losing his pseudo-family to this new kid. With tensions rising, the audience begins to understand the strains and dynamics of the group. Ray is sort of like the sit in dad; he is the one with the highest aspirations – dreaming of making it big as a skater. His main drawback is his immaturity, and the downward spiral of his best friend, F*cksh*t – a name earned for his go-to catchphrase. F*cksh*t is loveable and fun. but he’s going nowhere fast. Fourth Grade, aptly titled for his level of intelligence, acts as the crews own storyteller, always with a camera in hand, his friends never letting him live down his seeming lack of potential, and forever keeping him in his elementary bubble.
Neither his abusive brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) nor beleaguered mother Dabney (Katherine Waterson) are particularly happy with Stevie’s new-found crew and subsequent attitude. The audience sees Stevie taking back some power from Ian and his regular beatings. A small insight into Ian’s past gives us an understanding of why he is the way he is. The development of Ian and Stevie’s relationship is shown through the exchange of Ian’s most important currency, orange juice.
We see the fear and turmoil of a young mother who feels like she is losing her son. Katherine Waterson portrays a harsher character than most would be used to for her. She is struggling with the difficulties of single parenthood and her own self-worth, which isn’t directly discussed but clear through her actions.
The casting in this film is truly superb, this being the first major role for many of the main quintet. With their own affiliations with LA skate crews, they bring authenticity to their characters. There are no body doubles or trick photography here; the skating and the skill is all natural.
Hill’s writing brings forward in full force the influences of toxic masculinity, racial prejudice and homophobia that were alive and well at the time. The audience is faced with these brutalities, but not without a hint of humour. This film has surprising emotional complexity even with storylines that don’t really go anywhere.
Shooting in super 16 millimetre gives the film the sketchy visual it needed. Combined with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s composition of original score and nostalgic 90s hip-hop, the audience can almost feel homesick for times past. Reznor and Ross use splitting silence to emphasize the more harrowing scenes, creating a prime example of how loud silence can really be.
Grab your skate board and a 40oz, you’re in for a ride.