I grew up in the 90’s, and often look back at that time with rose colored glasses. Therefore, it’s probably not surprising then that I was excited to see what Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, had in store for me. The most shocking thing that Mid90s did was not rely on nostalgia in order to make the movie work. In all honesty, Hill’s film could have been set at any time period, and while their hobby of choice may not have been skateboarding in another decade, the connections between the characters could have been. There are some clear first-time director bumps along the way, but the crafting of his characters and the ride we take with them – plus the impressive performances from some young talent – made mid90s a great experience to watch.
Mid90s was charming and funny
Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is 13 and living in L.A. in the middle of the 90’s and is spending this summer trying to find himself. He lives with brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges), who is prone to hitting Stevie, and his mom (Katherine Waterston), who had the boys very young and has questionable social habits. When Stevie sees Ray (Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and Reuben (Gio Galicia) skateboarding and hanging out, he discovers his direction.
Sunny Suljic continues to demonstrate his talent. Hill puts this movie on his shoulders, and he definitely carries it. Most of the nostalgia this film does offer comes as a quick moment in the beginning. We see Stevie’s room decked out in Ninja Turtles and Nickelodeon Cartoon Posters. Super Nintendo controllers and cartridges are scattered about. All of these childish things will soon be shed as Stevie chooses to pursue skateboarding and the friendship of the older kids who hang out at the local skate shop. The movie is his coming of age tale in many ways, but the tale really boils down to be one of friendship. The supporting cast here is essential, and Prenatt and Smith do an excellent job. Smith gets the most to do and plays a mentor role to Suljic’s character.
The bond that forms between Stevie – who’ll earn a nickname by the older skaters – is very organic. He does one thing after another to build connections with the various members the whole time, making his choices uneasily as he fears these bonds may be fragile. This is really what Hill seems to set out to craft: a story that focuses on surrogate families. There are no perfect characters here, and everybody mostly feels organic. The one exception to that is Ian…his character seems to have built a persona for himself that doesn’t entirely fit, but it’s the one he chose to wear. There is clearly an inner turmoil that he takes out on Stevie, despite Stevie’s initial attempt to look up to his older brother. Their arc – while sporadic – does pay off well by the end of the film.
Hill’s debut has some bumps. There are some edits early in the film that are very visible in a way that felt like a mistake rather than a choice. Most of these issues fall into coverage, which could be a budget issue if they were running out of time…but they are noticeable. However, the style has a home video vibe in ways that are clearly intentional, making those little bumps ignorable. None of the issues took away from the experience with the characters and the solid performances from them.
Mid90s is a film that could have reeked of nostalgia, but instead opted to give us an entertaining coming-of-age character study. The themes the film tackles are universally relatable, and the setting of the film is ultimately just an aesthetic choice. It’s a film that connected with me in numerous ways, and certainly lived up to my hopes. Mid90s earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.