These two docudramas share so many themes and aspects that I thought it would avoid some confusion by reviewing them side-by-side. Both deal with kids from shattered homes finding a place to belong with groups of similarly abused and/or ignored youths, through the common medium of skateboarding. Both feature a group member with a video camera vaguely “making a movie or something,” and both end on a cathartic note and a fresh look at what constitutes a “family.”
Mid90s, actor Jonah Hill’s assured and observant directorial debut, focuses on 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic), who finds acceptance and escape from a dysfunctional home life with a bunch of kids that hang out at a skateboard shop. The movie is by turns poignant, empathetic, energetic and lived-in. The rag-tag group of new friends are real and believable.
There’s little storytelling, really, but as the title suggests, this works best as a snapshot of an era and shows a definite sense of time and place. Lots of kinetic skateboarding sequences. Supporting cast includes Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterson. (85 min)
Minding the Gap is Bing Liu’s ambitious, quasi-autobiographical look at the complex issue of toxic masculinity in economically depressed Rustbelt America today. Liu spent 12 years filming two of his skateboarding buddies (and himself) as they negotiate the challenges of graduating from abused adolescence to the responsibilities of adulthood.
The beautifully shot (and edited) film is intimate, painful, raw and true, without ever being maudlin or manipulative. Offering great depth, integrity and relevance, this is the kind of movie that demands to be made, to be gotten out of a filmmaker’s head, before s/he can move on, and I can’t wait to see what Liu does next. (93 min)
P.S. There’s a third recent film on the therapeutic aspects of skateboarding, Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen. All three are highly watchable, resonant and rewarding, but perhaps it’s time to explore other avenues of empathy. Just sayin’.