Production Company: A24
Release Date: October 19th, 2018
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterson
Directed By: Jonah Hill
Mid90s is a stellar and surprising first film from Jonah Hill in his directorial debut, one where the setting is the most important character, one that we see push and warp the smiling faces of children that live in poverty. Hill’s eye for the seemingly insignificant social pressures on the youth and their actions is trained on the character of Stevie, a 13 year old with a single mother and abusive older brother. There’s a realism in setting, in time period, in the slang the characters use that betray what this project is to Hill; Mid90s is a biopic of Jonah Hill’s own childhood.
The characterization is incredible in the movie, being more of a study of the poor kids that run wild in the summer. Stevie’s band of friends are each given apt screen time to meaningfully characterize them without bloating the movie and the audience sees exactly as much of each character as they need to in order to make the story work. Particularly notable is the choleric Ray, an introspective and responsible older boy who serves as a surrogate brother to Stevie, especially since Stevie’s biological brother torments and attacks him. Ray appears on the fringes of the story at first, and we see him as Stevie see him: a distant demigod of skateboarding, one who hangs out with pros and is always confident in what he’s doing. As the story develops however, Ray moves closer to Stevie and consoles him as Stevie enters the most difficult time in his life thus far: Puberty. Life isn’t easy being 13, especially when your older brother hates you, when your mom comes home with different men every night, and when you’re never sure what’s going to happen to you next.
Pop culture runs abound here without running over elements of narrative or characterization. This is clearly the 90s if the title hadn’t tipped you off yet. SNES’s are traded for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle skateboards. Skate culture is at it’s peak. We can see characters reading issues of the storied Big Brother magazine, skate videos are worshipped and effectively serve as background noise for most of the film. Hip hop is a particularly subtle addition, with Tribe Called Quest albums lining the walls and De La Soul pulsing in the background. Jonah Hill hasn’t attempted any subtlety in what his favorite brands of the 90s were.
Mid90s is incredible and one of my favorite movies of the year so far. I really had no quarrel with any aspect of the movie and the only things that are noticeably worse than other aspects are merely average or good, not great. It’s uncomfortable, scary, concerning, sweet, and overall, beautiful. Check it out.
Review by Bennett Tolar