Directed by Jonah Hill.
Starring Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Olan Prenatt, Na-kel Smith, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin, Jerrod Carmichael, and Katherine Waterston.
Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is just like a lot of other boys growing up in 90s Los Angeles; he has an oppressive older brother (Lucas Hedges) who won’t let him touch his stuff, a single parent mother (Katherine Waterston), and a desire to hang with the cool kids. In this case, a group of teen skaters, who fast become Stevie’s friends for one unforgettable summer.
Built around Sunny Suljic’s Stevie, as he drifts through a series of adolescent rights of passage, Mid90s is a film that manages to successfully veer in tone, from the brutality of the abuse at the hands, or should that be fists, or his older brother, played with a furrowed brow intensity by Lucas Hedges, through to the kind of lyrical daydream skateboard sequences, that perfectly encapsulate the endless nothingness of a few wasted childhood hours.
Shot in 4:3, and using 16mm film, it feels as though you’re watching a series of authentic home videos, ones upon which you can project your own childhood insecurities and experiences, because it all feels so real. At under 90mins too, it’s very much like your own youth; over in a flash, but the memories of the experience will never leave you.
It gets under your skin in this way largely because of the performances. They’re all so minimalist, unshowy, and completely deserving of your empathy. Hill, working from his own semi-autobiographical script, sets up this roll-call of urchins in the time it takes to flip a skateboard. Their personalities are drawn quickly, but they never feel like stereotypes. They have a depth provided by fleeting moments of dialogue, or character beats subtly woven between the parties and skate parks.
As our eyes during this tour of sun-kissed concrete streets and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross beats, Suljic is extraordinary. His diminutive stature providing an instant fragility as he navigates a world in which he takes plenty of punches, but always gets back up. It’s a performance in which he’s finding his place, taking it all in, but teetering on the edge of becoming overwhelmed. It’s an arc that’s woven into each of the characters; from Na-Kel’s Smith’s Ray, whose awareness of the fleeting nature of their youth, and a drive to get out, causes conflict with Olan Prenatt’s perennial adolescence, to Stevie’s own mother, played brilliantly by Katherine Waterston, whose helplessness at watching her boy throw himself into these trials of life, is as heartbreaking as anything on display.
The whole thing has a rough around the edges, plasters on the knees, scabs on the knuckles charm, and while some might wish Mid90s looked beneath the surface a little bit more, you forgive the film any shortcomings in the narrative department because we’re viewing this world through the eyes of a kid who doesn’t really understand it yet.
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a moment-in-time mood piece that flourishes thanks to a series of engaging performances, a stellar soundtrack, and the kind of naturalistic storytelling that makes Mid90s feel like it exists just around the block from Sean Baker’s stunning The Florida Project. In short, it’s a coming-of-age classic.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt