This is actor Jonah Hill's first attempt as Director, and he's chosen a subject that won't appeal to a lot of audiences.  It's a coming-of-age story, but it's street-tough.  Mr. Hill chooses two veteran actors, one child actor, and four unknown skateboarders, and concentrates on the skateboarders.

            Stevie (12-year-old Sunny Suljic) is a kid from a dysfunctional family.  His single Mom (Katherine Waterston) is mostly absent, though occasionally we hear her yelling through the walls in a profane argument with some man whom we never see.  His older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges) carries around enough anger to beat on Stevie regularly, either for some perceived infraction, like entering his room without permission, or just because he can.  Ian fails to see that Stevie looks up to him and tries to emulate him.  Stevie even risks entering Ian's room in order to look at what music he has, and try to buy him some music which he doesn't have but Stevie thinks he'd like.  Ian is singularly unimpressed.

No wonder Stevie seeks companionship outside his home.

            Stevie gravitates toward a skateboarding shop because it's something he'd like to learn.  The older kids who hang out there are way too cool to talk to Stevie, but eventually the youngest one, Ruben (Gio Galicia) tells him to shut up and keep his eyes and ears open.  He also teaches Stevie to quit saying “I'm sorry.”  And shows Stevie how to smoke cigarettes.  And offers to sell Stevie his old skateboard for forty dollars.  The trouble is, that's more money than Stevie can imagine getting his hands on.  But Ian shows Stevie where Mom keeps her hidden cash, in her bureau drawer, and makes Stevie steal $80, with the other $40 going to Ian as a kind of “finder's fee.”  Stevie feels guilty about it, but he wants so badly to fit in with his new crowd.  He also practices skateboarding incessantly, falling down frequently, but eventually he learns to at least stay upright for a while.  But he's amazed with the tricks the older boys can do.

            Ray (Na-kel Smith) is the oldest, and also the most accomplished skateboarder.  He's obviously the leader of the group, and he's impressed by Stevie's persistence, so he bestows a nickname on him: “Sunburn” (It's a long story.)  Ray's best friend also has a nickname, but it's unprintable in a family newspaper.  Let's just say he's played by Olan Prenatt, and he has long, blonde, curly hair, which he claims the girls love.  It's just that so far we haven't seen many girls.  The other member of their group is nicknamed Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), supposedly because he's only as smart as someone in Fourth Grade.  But he's the one constantly taking a video of everyone, and who, at the end, puts together a film about them all. 

            To be blunt, none of these kids seem very bright.  They seem to be able to speak only in profanities.  They don't appear to have any ambition.  All they want to do is skateboard all day.  And when they're not doing that, sitting around the shop talking about it.  Occasionally, there's a party, where alcohol and drugs seem readily available.  (Does anybody else have any parents?)  At one of the parties, “Sunburn” is invited by a girl upstairs, where he is introduced to necking and petting, but of course he doesn't want to admit it's his first time. 

            It's a depressing thought that all of these things would actually be experienced by a 12-year-old

(who looks like he's about 10).  It feels like growing up way too fast, which is probably part of the point.  The skateboarders do make for a kind of ragged fellowship, but it's frustratingly unclear where any of this is going, which is undoubtedly part of the point, as well.  Remember the story of Pinnochio, and how he hung out with the slovenly boys and became a jackass?  “Coming of Age,” indeed.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association