As a kid of the 90s and early ‘00s, the trailers for Mid90s had me ecstatic to get back into the striped sweaters and skate tees of my youth. The directorial debut for actor turned writer/director Jonah Hill, promised to embrace the culture and aesthetic of the time authentically, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to say Hill delivers on that promise. Mid90s is a fantastic first film for Jonah Hill that depicts the close social bond of 90’s skate culture.
Working both as a youth in revolt story and a dark-comedic, Mid90s follows 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he navigates a troublesome home life, abusive relationship with his older brother (Lucas Hedges) and a desperate need to belong. After stumbling into an LA skate shop, Stevie begins to try his hand at skateboarding in an attempt to fit in with a friend group fairly older than him. The crew partakes in debauchery and mayhem all the while dragging Stevie into the gritty street life they have known. While Stevie may have found an escape from his home life, he simultaneously may be derailing from the straight and narrow.
During the post-screening Q&A, Jonah Hill mentioned a conversation he had with director Martin Scorsese. What was supposed to be a 15-minute lunch, turned into a 4-hour discussion about the film. The two had previously worked together on The Wolf of Wall Street for which Hill earned an academy award nomination, and in 90s I think it’s safe to say we can see him drawing a bit from his mentor. The film opens with a punch - literally - as we are quickly and disturbingly introduced to Stevie getting viciously attacked by his brother with the audience feeling each impact (kudos to the sound team for their incredible work). This act is only a mere taste of the dark, gritty realism to come. I mention this because it’s precisely in line with how Scorsese would showcase domestic abuse. No music or soundtrack (for now at least) just pure unsettling violence. Through scenarios such as this, Hill manages to make his film more than just a nostalgia piece, its a real street-level look at troubled kids finding friendship through skating. Sunny Suljic is a loveable lead you feel dearly for, and the supporting cast all have their moments to shine. Now even though the film doesn’t shy away from showing harsh reality, it still manages to weave in some crowd-pleasing laughs.
Hill's voice is all over the script, especially regarding dialogue. When the kids are cracking one-liners, or indulging in brotherly “shit talk,” it not only is a riot, but I could wholeheartedly envision Jonah delivering these lines making it even better. You can tell he put his heart and soul into crafting this picture by taking the passion of his youth and genuinely documenting it. His decision to shoot on 16mm film, utilize a 4:3 aspect ratio, mix in a killer time capsule of a soundtrack and fittingly mood enhancing score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (what a perfect choice for a 90s film), are all masterful decisions that will have audiences convinced he dug up a flick from 25 years ago.
While the ending is a tad unfulfilling, I do believe Jonah Hill achieved what he set out to do and has a promising future as a director. It’s a film with a lot of heart and despite its darkness, managed to put a smile on my face. Sure smells like teen spirit to me.
Toronto International Film Festival Review: Mid90s
Production Companies: A24, Waypoint Entertainment
Director: Jonah Hill
Cast: Sunny Sculjic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
Rated R, 84 Min
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