Hot Take: You can tell it’s a passion project for Jonah Hill who makes his debut as writer/director. There are parts that are fantastic and parts that completely miss but, for the most part, Hill’s debut hits often enough to make it a successful one.
I’m 8 years older than Jonah Hill and would have made me 20 when his feature directorial debut Mid90s likely took place. It’s not quite a groundbreaking piece of work from Hill who taps into his childhood for some aspects of the film. Referred to as loosely autobiographical, it seems appropriate to note that Hill was not the child of a single mother (his dad was an accountant whose client list included Guns N’ Roses and mom was a costume designer and fashion stylist) and while he grew up in Los Angeles, it was in Chaviot Hills, one of the more wealthy neighborhoods of the city. He worked in a skate shop, was obsessed with skating and surely knew characters like the ones in his film. The blueprint for this type of film was already laid out in 1995’s Kids which takes on the time period and the kids of that generation full bore while Hill’s Mid90s has a more nostalgic feel even with some rather dark and gritty moments. The films are vastly different yet similar in many senses but Mid90s is more sugary, less anarchistic and more self-indulgent than the genre-busting film of that time period. Hill weaves a rather poignant coming of age film which provides a glimpse into a relatable tale for many even if skating was never their thing.
In Mid90s, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in Los Angeles with his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and his aggressive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). While biking in his area, Stevie observes some kids skating and hanging outside of a skate shop and is instantly attracted to it. He trades some items with his brother to get a skateboard of his own and heads to the shop to see if he can become a part of the group. He befriends Ruben (Gio Galicia) first who then introduces him to the rest of the skaters — Ray (Na-kei Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) — and slowly Stevie becomes part of the group.
As the film progresses, there’s plenty of nostalgia regarding the time period. However, there’s a heaviness about the film that keeps Mid90s elevated above a fluff piece. Hill does an excellent job of balancing humor and drama while keeping the material raw and edgy but also provides a tribute to the time period. There are moments that are downright difficult to sit through including a sex scene involving the underage main character and another underage female. It’s graphic enough to make the viewer squirm but never feels gratuitous or out of place. It’s not there just to shock you but to add a layer to this coming of age film that seems necessary. That’s not to say the film doesn’t suffer from contrivance especially the heavy handed “After School Special” third act which shows Hill’s inexperience.
All in all, Mid90s is a moderate success. It’s yet another A24 endorsed film which makes the most of it’s subject matter and it’s raw talent. Hill proves himself worthy of more attention as a potential writer/director and the young cast will likely find more work in the future because of their performances here.
‘Member the mid-90s? Yeah, I ‘member!
If you’ve seen Jonah Hill interviewed lately and find him to be a little self-indulgent, well, this movie is likely not for you.