Anyone who enjoys comedy is probably well acquainted with the works of Jonah Hill. Hill is mostly known for acting in critically acclaimed comedies including Superbad, 21 Jump Street and The Wolf of Wall Street. This past week, Hill expanded his talents to directing with his directorial debut Mid90s.
Mid90s tells the story of Stevie—portrayed by Sunny Suljic—a thirteen-year-old boy living with his abusive older brother, Ian—played by Lucas Hedges—and his busy mother, Dabney—played by Katherine Waterson.
Stevie meets and befriends a group of four older teenagers brought together by their love of skateboarding. Led by his new group of friends, Stevie experiences many complicated parts of growing up, including navigating parties, tensions between friends, alcohol and drug use and figuring out who he wants to be in the future.
The first thing to note about Mid90s is that it’s not a typical narrative film. The story is a mix between a somewhat general coming-of-age tale and a period piece centered on 90s culture. The story is comprised of several events that don’t exactly add up to a particular climax, similar to Lady Bird, another film produced by A24.
While this may not be what most audiences were expecting, Mid90s thrives on this rather loose narrative. All the events portrayed work as a powerful character study centered on Stevie, thanks in part to Sunny Suljic’s terrific performance. The film begins with Stevie as a quiet, innocent homebody. As Stevie explores his interests and personality with his older group of friends, the changes his character undergoes feel organic and relatable.
The rest of the cast also carried the film well, especially Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatt, who portray Ray and Fuckshit respectively, the two oldest members of the group. Part of the reason why the cast also works well together is due to the film’s phenomenal script.
The dialogue is written with a sense of authenticity that makes the characters feel like real people rather than props to keep the story going. Each character is also written with enough backstory to make the audience care about every member of the group.
While the film works well as a character study, it is also a superb period piece. Although nostalgia has been a powerful influence on much recent media, including works like “Stranger Things” and Ready Player One, most nostalgic pieces are based primarily on the 80s. Few films and television shows have portrayed the 90s as old enough to be “nostalgic,” but Hill took great care in crafting a film meant to be an ode to this time in history.
Everything in the film from the large-scale costume and set designs to smaller details like references made in dialogue and posters for bands like Mobb Deep, Stevie’s house pays homage to the pop culture of the 90s.
The film also centers on skater culture in particular, showing perhaps hundreds of kids and teens at a time doing tricks and grinding rails in vacant lots and public parks. The way these references are placed as well as the overall smaller scope of the narrative make it truly feel like Hill is pouring every memory from his childhood into this film with the greatest sense of care.
In regard to the technical aspects of the film, the camera work in the movie is phenomenal. The film is shot incredibly well and there are some truly memorable shots that add to the overall film significantly. The film is also edited well enough but isn’t anything groundbreaking.
Some editing choices made near the end of the film seem rather amateurish and could have easily left audience members confused, but this is limited to the end of the film and can be considered a slight mishap given this is Hill’s first directorial feature.
Overall, Mid90s is an excellent accomplishment for Hill’s budding directorial career. The film’s excellent script, performances and cinematography give incredible life to a rather simple premise. So, this weekend, put down the iPhone, pop Nirvana’s Nevermind in your Discman and skate to the nearest theatre to catch Mid90s.