In junior high school and high school (which were mid80s for me), we used to call this one guy a poser. He’d wear rock ‘n roll T-shirts — Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and Iron Maiden — but he didn’t know anything about those bands. He just thought it would make him look cool.
I don’t know if the word “poser” is used among the youth today, but the word came to mind when I saw this movie. The film felt like a poser. It was done in a sort of Martin Scorsese style (Hill has expressed being a big fan, and of course got an Oscar nomination for being in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street). Except Scorsese would’ve done this movie when he was in 4th grade.
Hill gives us a movie that’s derivative. It feels like a Richard Linklater flick (Everybody Wants Some, Dazed and Confused), and for some reason, just like with Linklater pictures…this movie is getting praised by most critics. It’s baffling.
This felt like a first draft. How in the world is Hill watching the dailies, and deciding this film works? There’s barely any character development. Hell, there’s barely anything in this 80 minute movie, except skateboarding, drinking, and watching teenagers act like dopes (and smoking dope). Now, you can make a movie about aimless kids. In fact, the movie Kids did it wonderfully (that’s a mid90s movie that introduced us to Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny).
Watching young people with nothing to do but drinking…can be entertaining. Who didn’t love Trainspotting and Swingers? It’s just a shame that Hill couldn’t give us something more than a nostalgia trip.
The movie starts with Stevie (Sunny Suljic,The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as a 13-year-old who is often beat up by his brother Ian (Lucas Hedges, who it’s great to see in so many movies since his impressive role in Manchester by the Sea). His single mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston), works hard, sleeps around, and isn’t as bad a mom as you might think. Heck, she tries to discipline Ian, and she tries to keep Stevie from hanging around with his new crew.
Stevie’s new crew, is like his new family. This motley bunch of boys, all have bad home lives, and it would be sweet to see they’ve created their own family. Yet they’re almost all idiots. They sit around cursing, starting fights with random people (or shop owners), do drugs, and they’re generally disrespectful to everyone around them.
There’s “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin), who wants to be a filmmaker and records all their skateboarding tricks. Another guy is nicknamed “Fu**, Sh**” because that’s what he says every time someone does a cool trick on their board.
The youngest of the bunch is Reuben (Gio Galicia). He’s the one that kind of welcomes Stevie into the group (and he’s the closest to his age), but he quickly bullies him in subtle ways, and resents the fact that the older guys begin to like Stevie a bit more. The only likable character is Ray (Na-kel Smith). He dreams of being a pro skateboarder, and he’s both hip, well-respected, and nice. He’s also the only one that seems to realize this youngster is getting involved in a lot of stuff he probably shouldn’t be getting into. Yet in one of many examples of lazy writing by Jonah Hill, his character merely tells Stevie all the problems everyone else in the group is going through.
I’m also curious why, when a film has a lot of people smoking, you sometimes hear smoking groups talking about how it glorifies smoking to kids. Not sure what LGBTQ groups will think about the many slurs, or how the n-word is tossed around so often. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt these type of kids in the mid-90s spoke that way, but isn’t this a form of glorifying that? And if we live in a day and age where comedians can’t say things if they aren’t PC (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and many others have complained about that)…why do films get a free pass on that?
I’m also curious about a scene that has a 13-year-old (who looked 10) in a sex scene with a girl that was probably 18. How can you legally film something like that?
It’s frustrating that you never really know any of these characters. For example, why did the older brother have such rage toward his sibling? Not just the way he beat him up, but…when he’s given a CD as a birthday gift and doesn’t seem to appreciate it.
The soundtrack is dope (Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch do an original score); but there’s even a problem with the songs. Hill seems to be making a series of skate videos instead of a movie. Dude, this isn’t a documentary. Sure, it’s beautiful to see a setting sun with kids skating down the middle of a busy intersection while we hear the Mamas & Papas (and surprisingly not California Dreamin’). It’s cool to hear A Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana, The Pixies, and The Smiths, but…instead of a soundtrack of songs you like, I’d rather have characters I’d like to spend time with. I can’t see how anybody would want to spend more than 10 minutes watching these fools.
1 ½ stars out of 5.