Mid90s is a nostalgic slice of time from debut director and writer Jonah Hill (yes, that Jonah Hill). Following Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic of Killing of a Sacred Dear, a thirteen-year-old in 1990s Los Angeles. The film’s lack of narrative navigates the lives of skating teenagers wasting time in their long summers, negotiating with problematic families, and first-time sexual experiences. Stevie befriends older teenage skaters and thus Jonah Hill indulges his reminiscent look on first-time drink and drug culture and lazy days.
Mid90s comes after a few recently released skate films: Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen, following a group of girl skaters in New York, and Bing Lui’s Minding the Gap, a documentary feature film following three young men in their Rust Belt hometown — both of which are more interestingly duplicated narratively. Hill’s take seems rather self-indulgent compared to the the documentary-like and feminist aesthetic of Skate Kitchen, in particular. However, Hill’s screenplay is beautifully full of relatable coming-of-age nostalgia. Sunny Suljic is incredible. He seamlessly transitions from cute kid to anxious teen with his adorable, and forgiving, big eyes meaning that no matter how unlawful his actions turn, you can not help but love him. Lucas Hedges plays Stevie’s brutal older brother Ian with grit and melancholy, perfectly highlighting the difficulties in growing up in a ‘broken up family’.
‘Self-indulgent and reflective, Mid90s is aesthetically beautiful and filled with stunning performances, but there is something particularly special missing’
Mid90s is filled with cliches, but it is not unlikable. Skating down a freeway at sunset to Morrisey whilst the camera sits at the bottom is, unarguably, beautiful. Cinematographer, Christopher Blauvert, known for The Bling Ring and Meek’s Cutoff, harnesses 16mm and academy ratio to create a contained look on teenagers in the 90s. The restriction created and constant use of close up ensures a feeling of a time kept in a memory box, as if this is Jonah looking back on his old albums and videos from his time growing up. It certainly is riddled with nostalgia. The stylistic choices all contribute to a dream-like look back at growing up in a town where there was not much else to do but ‘hang out’.
Mixed with coming-of-age cliche and films with similar themes being released at the same time, however, seems to be this film’s downfall. Self-indulgent and reflective, Mid90s is aesthetically beautiful and filled with stunning performances, but there is something particularly special missing. It is as if we’ve seen it before: either through living through the 90s ourselves, or through its unoriginality. That said, it is a great debut and edited and shot almost without fault. I look forward to what Jonah Hill has got to offer next, though I do worry that another self-indulgent piece is on the horizon.