Film Review – Mid90s (2019)

Very few actors have transferred from the front to behind the camera with ease and critical success. Jonah Hill is the latest actor trying his luck and impresses with Mid90s.

Over his 15 plus years acting, Hill has had the privilege with working with some of the best when it comes to directing. Gus Van Sant, The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, one could say he’s not short of mentors or inspirations. The final outcome of his directorial debut is one with plenty of emotion, compassion and nostalgia.

Mid90s is certainly a passion project for Hill, but how personal the film is to him is hard to say. If anything this film is inspired by his experiences. Hill is no stranger to writing scripts for other films, he’s also written this one and certainly looks to be his most expressive. Not just in the story, but capturing the nostalgia and love for the era (1990s), capturing the essence of the decade.
Mid90s (2018)
In Mid90s, we meet Stevie (Sunny Suljic) who lives in Los Angeles, California in the mid 1990’s. A 13 year old boy dressed in his Street Fighter t-shirt, Ninja Turtles and Hulk Hogan bedding. He’s a naive kid, baby of his family, whose older brother (Lucas Hedges), who constantly beats him up.  When we meet Stevie he’s sporting bruises and standing in front a mirror. His Mother (Katherine Waterston),mollycoddles him when she’s not with her latest man.

Stevie just wants to be to be liked, and desperately wants friends. He finds those friends at a local skateboard shop. Older teenagers whom themselves from poor to broken homes.

When Mid90s was released cinematically, it was been compared to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. This film is nothing like Greta Gerwig’s film apart from being a coming of age story with personal connections/experiences to the directors. One could argue the film is about growing up too quickly, essentially your teen years are your self discovery ones.  Sunny Puljic may have been playing a 13 year old, reality he was only 11 years old at time of filming. You wonder why Stevie his character got so much freedom at such an young age.

Stevie is lacking a male role model in his life, despite Ian constantly torturing him as he seeks his brother to be that person. We never clearly find out why Ian has so much aggression toward his brother. Is it jealously? Does Stevie and Ian share same mother but have different fathers? Whatever the reason, Ian’s own childhood we’re teased that it could have been traumatic.

What Stevie’s new skater friends do, they give him friendship. The boys may be older than him, he finds solace in them. The shop is like an safe haven to him and the friends have their own wounds. Steve isn’t a skater and desperately wants to prove himself to them. Even going as far as mimicking their moves and behaviour. The eldest boy Ray (Na-Kel Smith) becomes that mentor/role model he’s been seeking.
His desperation shines through especially in one scene when he attempts a skater jump on a roof. A jump that lands him in hospital and the boys respect. From here as the friendship grows, this journey takes him into local skater culture. Smoking, drinking and his first sexual encounter that gives Stevie a big reason to smile. That’s even taking abuse on the way that ‘s at times psychically, mentally emotionally. As they slack around the shop, the chat was silly and  foul mouthed but at no time does Jonah Hill villainized them. It shows them as vulnerable and unaware they are being toxic.

Mid90s may not be groundbreaking, Jonah Hill has been watching and studying from his own mentors. The film finds an nice balance between melodrama and nostalgia. The grainy ratio 4:3 and stomping score plays like an Thrasher mixtape (Nirvana, The Pixies, The Smiths). An raw, unapologetic passionate debut that’s rough around the edges.

★★★ 1/2

Drama | USA, 2018 | 15 | Out Now | DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital | Altitude Film Distrobution | Dir.Jonah Hill | Sunny Puljic, Na-Kel Smith, Lucas Hedges

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