I didn’t really know what to expect when I heard that Jonah Hill was going to go behind the camera. Looking back on his films it should have been obvious that it was going to be a coming of age film, but I didn’t think it would be something like this. Hill has gone in a more artistic, for lack of a better phrase, direction with this film. However, I don’t think the film as a whole works, mainly due to a script which felt a bit undercooked.
The film concerns Stevie, a 13 year old living in Los Angeles with a somewhat strained relationship with his mum and brother. One day, Stevie stumbles across a group of skateboarders, and starts to ingratiate himself into their group, joining in their daredevil behaviour and getting his first experiences with alcohol, drugs and sex. Now there are some good ideas explored in terms of the connection between the main characters and how they use skateboarding as an escape from their lives, but these elements don’t get as much attention as they should. Given all the connections that need to be established, the film needed to be longer to give the characters more time to be fleshed out and their character arcs given more weight. The best example of this is the relationship between Stevie and his brother, which I feel should have been an emotional core of the film, but the two are barely on screen together and, as a result, we don’t really get an understanding of what their relationship is like, other than Stevie being bullied by his brother, which makes a key scene between the two near the end of the film lack weight. There is also a thing for me where I just kept thinking about how much better the general tone of the film was handled elsewhere that I just couldn’t get out of my head. In this case, even though it feels like Hill was influenced more by the works of people like Harmony Korine, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the structural and tonal similarities this has to This Is England, and how much better the themes were executed in This Is England. It’s kind of like how I felt when watching Boy Erased, when I couldn’t stop thinking about a film that executed the general idea better.
The performances are pretty solid though. Sunny Suljic does a good job as Stevie, showing his growing attachment with his new friends and how he feels a connection to them, and how they help him find himself. As his friends, Gio Galcia, Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin are solid, with Na-Kel Smith giving the best performance, having a strong connection with Suljic and bringing some strong pathos to the film. Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston as Stevie’s brother and mum are solid as well, but are not utilised and given as much character development as they should.
I will say that the technical side of the film is strong though. Jonah Hill and DP Christopher Blauvelt make good use of film stock to create the feel of the indie films of the 90s, with a wise decision being made not to clean up the film, allowing it to be shown with little scratches and other artefacts of film. The filmmaking style also allows the skateboarding scenes to work well, showing the skill needed for skateboarding and the connection it can forge in people. The soundtrack also does a good job at creating the feel of the 90s, in kind of a similar way to Captain Marvel, helping to make you feel the environment of the characters.
Overall, I wish I had more to say about the film. Jonah Hill has shown some promise behind the camera, but the overall quality of the film just felt really bland. There isn’t really anything in the film that wasn’t done better in other coming of age films and the characters aren’t given enough development to really help them to stand out. I wish I liked the film more, but I just felt bored watching it, making the 84 minute run time feel so much longer.
My Rating: 2.5/5