Mid90s review Sunny Suljic Na-Kel SmithYear: 2018
Director(s): Jonah Hill
Writer(s): Jonah Hill
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rating: R
Super 16, Color, 75 mins

Synopsis: A thirteen-year-old in 1990s-era Los Angeles navigates between his troubled home life and a group of new friends. (Source)

One person’s experience couldn’t be further from the person next to them. And yet, most coming of age films feel the same or follow the same template. They’re either overly serious or too sentimental, going toward extreme measures to manipulate an audience into surface nostalgia. While Jonah Hill’s Mid90s captures a time and place gone by, it’s fueled by blinding sincerity and an immersion into the mundane. It’s also one of the most disarming films of its kind. Eschewing the gloss of its peers, Hill’s film is tender and raw. It’s a time capsule with timeless feelings and a story allows its young boys to make mistakes and have fun while doing so. Armed with truthful performances, the film unfolds like a 90’s mixtape of brotherhood and skateboarding, leaping off the screen with heart and adolescent abandon.

Sometime in the 90s, thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is like a sponge. He’s at that perfect age where he’s unwittingly looking for a role model or something to give his life meaning. Dodging brutal attacks from his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), and given a lot of freedom from his single mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston), Stevie keeps to himself. He sneaks into his brother’s room to listen to CDs or plays video games to pass the time. One day, he comes across a group of skateboarders. There’s a fearlessness that Stevie is instantly drawn to, and he’s quickly taken in by the group. As the boys grow closer together, it becomes clear that their love for skating isn’t their only common ground. It’s the tumultuous backgrounds and traumas that have shaped and define them. Together, they form an unsaid bond that transcends anything that comes their way.

The greatest thing about Hill’s film, is that, at it’s core, it feels like an extended hang out session. It’s anchored by spontaneity and moments of bliss which drown out domestic hardship and social dissonance. With a care-free plot that allows its characters to just be, we’re immersed into a film that isn’t merely about getting from point a to b. Hill’s latest, first and foremost, is about the moment. This moment. Not what comes before or after, but each fleeting second that expands and feels frozen amidst unshakable camaraderie between friends. Hill captures this momentary escape brilliantly. Here, the background fades and the good times roll, taking us back to a simpler time. It’s that special place before adolescent awakening and and adult burdens, and the world feels new and we feel invincible. Just underneath the surface, Hill contrasts ugly reality with awe and hope every step of the way.

Mid90s review Sunny Suljic Katherine WaterstonNeedless to say, the heart of Hill’s film comes from its cast of wild-eyed misfits. At the center of it all, Suljic is a blinding ray of light, encapsulating the story’s essence and giving it a realism that’s impossible to look away from. This little kid is definitely poised for bigger things, commanding the screen with nuance and an unguarded sense of truth. But while Suljic is the film’s anchor, there isn’t a single weak link here. Skater, musician and actor Na-Kel Smith also burns up the screen, acting as the group’s defacto older brother, while Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia and Ryder McLaughlin round things out and flesh out an insular world with profound honesty. There’s no overlap here, with everyone pulling their weight and adding to the whole. On the side, Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston add depth with Stevie’s home life.

Mid90s is fun and funny but also poignant and revelatory. There’s a lot to be said for how Hill wrings relatable experiences while also critiquing how times have changed. Despite the kids’ sometimes not so knowledgable view of the world around them, there’s an innocence that has the power to be empathetic and understanding. If there’s one thing that resonates most, it’s that no matter who we are or where we’ve come from, we’re all dealing with our own problems. Together though, we find an unsaid strength that can’t be broken.

SG