+ Recommended – R, Comedy, Drama (84 minutes)
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, yes, 21 Jump Street alum Jonah Hill, flocks to the west coast for a particularly dim period piece. The majority of Mid90s works on a relational level but as a whole, feels a bit undernourished. Void of any real sub-textual meaning, lacking focused insight into various aspects of life, attempting to expose socioeconomic issues but not digging deep enough to explain the ramifications of the period on certain classes. But that’s not the point of Mid90s, is it?
There’s not really a take-away or message within the story, it’s just a story about a group of skaters making their way through adolescence. It’s a basic, coming-of-age story without the gloss of similar films: Eighth Grade, Edge of Seventeen, Lady Bird. The latter movies are drenched in metaphoric symbolism and unrelenting, colorful youth; there may be true grit and some genuine stories within them–but, on the surface, each of the previously mentioned films are polished with character arcs and narrative through-lines. Mid90s is vastly different from those films and that alone should be celebrated, even if that style isn’t completely satisfactory.
Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a thirteen-year-old kid, makes some new friends with a group of amateur skaters during one summer in the mid 90’s. Issues arise as Stevie tries to balance between his troubled home life and his newfound friends. Where the film works best is the smaller moments between the group of friends, and less when focusing on Stevie’s home life. Not to dismiss the performances from Lucas Hedges (Ian), Stevie’s older brother, and his mom played by Katherine Waterston (Dabney), as each performance is layered, even with little time to build upon them. However, they are present enough throughout for the audience to easily invest in their story, but by the end you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied as there isn’t time to adequately build a foundation for any parasocial connection. But again, Hill doesn’t particularly care what the audience thinks of the characters; the story propels the characters to the next scene rather than the reversal.
Don’t expect much of a score, either. Hill built each scene around specific artists or songs during the process of writing the script. The accompaniment between a scene and the soundtrack surly helped to solidify the time period and the lowkey tone. Each relationship formed or established between the kids feel true, probably because the film cast real skaters for talent and real friends for authenticity. It’s these minor pairings that save the movie from being utterly bland. The most frustrating aspect of Mid90s is the fact that there are many stories to tell, for instance: Ray (Na-kel Smith) overcoming the obstacles he’s faced with to eventually become a pro-skater or Ian’s (Lucas Hedges) tale of loneliness and isolation, yet Hill chooses to corner the narrative for the sake of simplicity.
On the contrary, Mid90s isn’t nostalgia porn or heavily focused on the skating community, so almost everyone could enjoy the movie without being bogged down by unnecessary pandering–while it’s not explicitly obvious, the movie does articulate a very particular atmosphere. And to my surprise, there are some cameos sprinkled within; so be on the lookout for those. Overall, this won’t be a standout movie-going experience for everyone but it’s not by any means mediocre. It’s a solid directorial debut for Jonah Hill, and I have nothing but respect for him. It’s evident that he put a lot of time and effort into making this piece, it’s just slightly irritating that there isn’t more to unpack.