Jonah Hill's debut film explores masculinity in 1990s

BERLIN • Famous for the "bro comedies" of his early career, actor Jonah Hill now wants to challenge traditional concepts of masculinity with his directorial debut film about a group of troubled young skaters in 1990s Los Angeles.

Mid90s, a coming-of-age movie presented at the Berlin Film Festival, follows 13-year-old Stevie who, beaten by his older brother, seeks solace with a group of troubled skaters hanging around a shop smoking and making crude jokes.

The shy boy becomes a troublesome teenager spiralling out of control as he starts drinking and smoking, steals money from his mother and hooks up with an older girl at a party in an attempt to fit in with his "cool" new friends.

Hill said he wanted to show how harmful the boys' often misogynistic and homophobic language is, and explore how their inability to express emotional pain led to bad decisions.

"In America at that time in the 1990s, traditional masculinity was not to show emotion, not to show sensitivity, not to show vulnerability because it's feminine or, God forbid, gay to do so," said Hill, who was born in 1983 in Los Angeles.

"We're kind of not saying what we mean and we're not actually expressing what's happening here... I just wanted to show that that's problematic," he said at a news conference.

Stevie desperately wants to be like the older boys and stays up late practising skateboarding techniques. He recklessly copies a stunt he has not yet mastered and ends up with a bloody head when he falls off a roof.

Hill, 35, said he spent his 20s doing what he thought others wanted him to do and though he loved movies such as Superbad (2007) that he starred in, they depicted "bro comedy" or "bro masculinity" and he wanted to do something different now.

"As I go forward as an artist, I can take all these kids that were raised the same way as I was, learning the same lessons, and help illuminate why maybe some of them weren't the best lessons in the entire world," he said, adding that he hoped Superbad fans would join him for the ride.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2019, with the headline 'Jonah Hill's debut film explores masculinity in 1990s'. Print Edition | Subscribe