Growing up in the 1990s for a lot of people might be the most memorable decade for some. It gave us the best in music, our first billion-dollar movie, and up-and-coming actors before they fall through the cracks of their careers. Now, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s is gonna take us back in the way he feels comfortable.
In the 1990s, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of the Sacred Deer) isn’t living the best home life as his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) physically abuses him and his single mom (Katherine Waterston) is sleeping with men daily. But it was during the summer that Stevie starts hanging out with cool skateboarders in Los Angeles where he feels comfortable with himself.
Mid90s really came out of nowhere until the trailer dropped back in the summer and seeing it with a few smaller movies. And I was surprised that Hill wasn’t doing a straight-forward comedy as his first film. Just a decade ago he was the funny comic relief from Superbad, to a really talented actor in his two Oscar-nominated roles in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street, respectively. Still haven’t watched Netflix’s Maniac yet, but I will eventually. With that, the buzz that came from TIFF persuaded me to check it out when it expanded. Not one of the best movies to come out this year, but Mid90s was better than I expected.
What I liked about Hill’s direction is that it looks like it could’ve easily been made in the decade. It’s captured what made it feel gritty and almost melancholy. This was shot in 4:3 ratio/16 MM and it was a safe choice style entirely to make it feel authentic without being distracting. You couldn’t even tell this was directed by him, to be honest. But his screenplay does add some funny moments that are casual exchanges between friends. The tone tilts between comedic and serious moments.
If we need to talk about another breakout performance of the year, Suljic has to be in the conversation. His performance is basically how most of us would feel like a teenager. At first, he seems shy, but once he finds friends by learning how to skateboard, it’s pretty typical when he starts smoking and drinking to the point he doesn’t want his mom to smell it on him.
Most of the actors aren’t well-known as a few are amateur skaters Hill found. But all of them had good chemistry with each other and Suljic. In particular Na-Kei Smith as Ray, the leader of the group, really stood out of the whole. He kind of reminded me of a Donald Glover-type.
And I love the music represented in the film. Of course, it brought out some good 90’s hip-hop, which was the best in those times. But the score provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is another hit for them as collaborators. Now I want them to compose my life.
Anybody who remembers their childhood could consider this a flashback when they had a summer where hanging out with friends getting into some mischief was a fun way to experience life outside of technology. Kind of makes me wish to spend one day in that time. It’s a way of escaping from the downside of what’s going on down in Stevie’s personal life.
Going into the problems that Mid90s had is that for a short 84-minute runtime, there was some desire to wanting a little more with a pretty simple plot. Hill clearly knows how people talk back then, but it gets annoying when some of the characters say phrases that wouldn’t be said in today’s standards, and it’s usually a thing that movies now should stay away from. Much like A24’s other film Eighth Grade, there’s a scene where I felt really uncomfortable and had this weird grin on my face as it involves Stevie and this girl in a room. Difficult? You bet.
I mean I was born 1996, and there isn’t a real single memory of the late 90’s. But it was a time where I wished I could experience what we didn’t have back then. Though skateboarding is a little questionable. But does this feel relatable to me? Can’t say it does, but tried.
The track record that A24 has with these kinds of teen movies ranges from excellent to phenomenal. With well-known actors taking up directing in 2018, Hill is another one to hopefully continue on this path. Mid90s seems to be the kind of passion project for the writer/director and it makes for an enjoyable movie that many don’t even know it exists until now.
Mid90s marks Jonah Hill’s directorial debut in a coming-of-age dramedy that felt authentic and nostalgic for some, even when its storytelling isn’t all the way there.