The film follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he finds a group of friends and his identity through the skateboarding scene in California in the mid-1990s as the title would suggest.
Although the film does revolve around skateboarding, even including a video shot with a fisheye lens that is so common from that era of skateboard videos, the film’s true goal is to use skateboarding as an entry point into the lives of Stevie and his friends as they transition from childhood to adulthood.
Revelations of child abuse, violence, addiction and friendship becoming resentment are some of the topics that become integral to the tension of the film, but Hill almost never comes out and states them through a character’s dialogue. Instead, many times the trauma or issue is hinted at through the character visually.
The best example of both Hill’s talent as a director and the actor’s ability to express deep and complex characterizations comes from Lucas Hedges’ performance of Stevie’s brother Ian. There are several times throughout the film that Hedges’ reactions to other characters dominated the scene; I couldn’t look away as I watched waves of emotions cycle across his face in realistic and haunting fashion.
Another real stand out in the film is real life pro-skater Na-Kel Smith. In Smith’s first film, he gives a realism to the skating that no one else in the film really provides, along with a desire for success and determination.
Hill really focuses on the performances from the actors, choosing to favor close-ups for most of the film, and with the three by four standard definition aspect ratio that would have been used in the 1990s, there is nothing to look at other than the actor’s face.
In those long, close-up shots, Hill’s writing truly shines. In those moments the script gives the audience enough details about the character’s life but leaves the most horrific portions out allowing the audience to imagine those events just as other characters would have to do in the context of the film.
Overall this is an excellent film with deeply emotionally resonating performances that stay with you long after the film is over. Hill shows his understanding of story and tone with a dark film that gives some resolution but never even approaches a fairy tale or saccharine ending, opting instead for a bittersweet ending that highlights the realistic perspective of the film. Some of the editing is choppy at the beginning of the film, but as the story focuses in on the main characters and their relationships, as does the editing. Between Hill’s writing and directing, it is unclear which aspect is the key factor in this film. I eagerly await his next project.