Mid90s

Ah, the joys (a relative term here, I’m sure) of growing up. Trying to figure out who you really were, all while trying to fit in and mold yourself into anything just to find some sort of acceptance. Getting angry at your parents for wanting the best for you and really being logical in hindsight (sorry, Mom and Dad) when you were being a little brat. Yeah, like I said, joy is a relative term. We all went through life in one way or another and some of us like to tell those stories through film. The thing is, most of real life really isn’t that exciting, so if you’re going to make a movie out of it, you better be picking the best parts.

13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in Los Angeles during the Mid90s. His homelife is very unsatisfying, with an inattentive mother and an abusive older brother. Looking for any sort of connection, he soon befriends a group of older skater kids. Stevie quickly fits right in, but as he learns the rights and wrongs from his new life, it starts to cause problems at home.

Nothing says “indie directorial debut of an actor” quite like a slice of life movie. Last year we had Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and now we have Jonah Hill making his directorial debut with Mid90s. This is basically a coming of age story that follows Stevie’s journey over a couple weeks or months as he forges his new friendships and identity. Since he’s the main character, Sunny Suljic has to practically carry the film and he does an outstanding job. It’s a very subdued performance with not a lot of dialogue, but the way he interacts with others and responds to situations felt very genuine. In fact, every character here felt incredibly genuine and realistic, all of them perfectly cast. Every character in Stevie’s skate squad, his mom (Katerine Waterston), and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) all feel fully developed and well defined, even if some of them may not be in the film much. Some of the actors here made their debut with this film, which is shocking because they feel so authentic in their performances. Hill doesn’t use a lot of expository dialogue either, a lot of the information delved out naturally in conversation, or just through simple visuals. I’m sure his background with Judd Apatow and company really helped, as all of the dialogue and character interactions flowed very smoothly.

From the title, to the marketing, to some of the glowing positive reviews, I was really fearing that this would just be a huge nostalgia trip about growing up as a kid in the 90’s. Skateboarding, cartoons, Desert Storm, video games, fish eye lenses, insufferable 90’s slang… Wait, one of those doesn’t quite fit… Anyway, I was afraid it would be nothing but Hill blasting us in the face with emotionally nostalgic pandering, but that surprisingly wasn’t the case. This isn’t a film about growing up in the 90’s, but just growing up. You can just replace some specific things and this story could take place in literally any other time period. Hill chose the 90’s because he obviously grew up then, but it’s really just a backdrop for the story. Hill does represent the 90’s very authentically, though, with Stevie playing Super Nintendo, Ian wearing oversized Ralph Lauren shirts, Ninja Turtle bedsheets, all shot in Super 16, complete with a 4:3 aspect ratio that only made the characters and setting more intimate.

While the story is pretty much nothing but a bunch of kids skateboarding, causing trouble, and talking, I never found myself bored. Since these types of films are more character driven than plot driven, my interest can sometimes wane if there’s not enough dramatic thrust to drive the movie. With an incredibly brief 84-minute runtime, I never really felt the length, especially since it’s incredibly paced. Nearly every scene is the perfect length, never too long, nor too short, the impeccable editing seamlessly tying it all together. Just enough to get across the point of the scene and further add to the characters. This is all assisted by the outstanding soundtrack. There’s a lot of 90’s hip hop that adds to the carefree attitude of just chilling out without a care in the world, but it’s the atmospheric score from Trent Reznor and Attitcus Ross that really elevates it all. It’s used in all of the dramatic scenes and with Hill’s sparse use of dialogue, it really adds to the characters, especially as it represents Stevie’s state of mind.

To be honest, I could have used an extra fifteen minutes or so, because the resolution feels a little too clean and neat. While I was happy it didn’t turn into a melodramatic tearfest at the end, I felt there was more Hill could have done to add a larger dramatic impact at the end. However, even with a slightly unsatisfactory ending, Mid90s is still one of the best films I’ve seen all year and one of the best recent directorial debuts from an actor. It’s heartfelt without being manipulative and it’s realistic without being pandering. The absolute best kind of coming of age drama.

9/10

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