My Review of Mid90s (2018)

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Image courtesy of Vulture: Lucas Hedges and Sunny Suljic in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s (2018).

4/5| Comedy| Drama| 1hr 24m

Director: Jonah Hill
Screenplay: Jonah Hill
Cinematography: Chris Blauvelt

After laughter comes tears. In his writing-directorial debut, Jonah Hill has done something special. He has, in a nut shell, captured the angst of American youth in an experiment that doesn’t even go beyond 85 minutes, but resonates with you long after you leave the theater.

Mid90s tells the story of thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic), who is in a rush to grow up. His mother (Katherine Waterston) still treats him like a little boy and when his older brother (Lucas Hedges) isn’t physically, verbally or emotionally abusing him, he’s ignoring him all together. With no where to belong, Stevie goes searching and finds a group of skater friends who change his life in a multitude of ways. However, you wouldn’t catch a single one of these new friends on an episode of Saved by the Bell. They are doing everything under the sun that a reasonable person would consider “bad” behavior. They smoke, drink, use derogatory terms and disrespect women, their parents and each other. To his mother and older brother’s dismay, Stevie soon begins to adopt these traits in an effort to fit in.

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Image courtesy of Variety: Alexa Demie and Sunny Suljic as Estee and Stevie in Mid90s (2018).

What I like most about this film is its authenticity. From the aspect ratio, to the soundtrack, to the clothes, it reaches a level of nostalgia that never feels gimmicky. It’s so easy to just drop characters in a time period because you believe that will appeal to the audience raised in that setting, but Hill has done something different; he has created a safe space. In our politically correct climate, one could never make a modern movie with characters as pleasantly vile as the one’s presented here.  There is one standout scene where Stevie says “thank you” and his new friend berates him because “only fags say thank you.” That’s the kind of movie this is. Unflinching. The language of youth culture was repugnant, and presenting it as honest as possible elevates this film, where in other films it would be seen as a crutch. However, this is a tight rope to walk and it only works because the cast is so exceptional.

Sunny Suljic, who many of us know from last year’s Killing of a Sacred Deer, shines as our window into the 90’s skate culture. With his frustratingly endearing naivety and infectious smile, we are transported to a world we not only recognize, but understand and relate to. We laugh and cry with him as he navigates through this new world of youthful defiance.  With every action and reaction we understand exactly why his character is so well liked by his new friends, and so despised by his manipulative older brother, who is played to perfection by the nearly unrecognizable Lucas Hedges, who has made a habit of appearing in only the most prestigious of indie films (Manchester by the Sea (2016), Lady Bird (2017)). This film also introduces us to a slew of new actors who completely embody their well imagined characters.

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Image courtesy of Variety: Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatt as Ray and Fuckshit in Mid90s (2018).

Continuing with the authenticity of the story, Hill decided that he wanted to cast professional skaters, and as a result, none of Stevie’s friends had ever acted before this film. Without prior knowledge you would have no idea, because they’re so exceptional in their roles. Lady Gaga may be starring in A Star is Born, but I believe that the real stars were born from this film. Some of its most engrossing moments are led by these first time actors, specifically the groups’s leader, Ray (Na-kel Smith), who is the most mature of the rowdy bunch and wants nothing more than to go pro and escape his life in the hood. He also has one of the most powerful lines in the whole movie, which just so happen to be  the second to last words spoken before the end (its arguably the point of the entire story). Although I didn’t care for the jarring way the film ended, its a small complaint that I don’t believe takes too many points away from the overall story.

This film acts as Jonah Hill’s love letter to skating and hip-hop culture, with a killer soundtrack filled with obscure 90s rap songs that only the most seasoned of connoisseurs would  recognize.  The level of detail put into the presentation of this film makes me believe we haven’t seen the last of Hill behind the camera and I can’t wait for whatever else he has to offer us. I saw this film in a relatively empty theater, but I’m sure word of mouth will eventually put it on the radar of many movie goers. Mid90s is, without a doubt, one of my favorite films of this year and I cannot recommend it enough. Go support it and I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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