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Mid90s - Movie Review

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Mid90s - Movie Review

There’s no grand message in Mid90s, the heartfelt new film written and directed by actor Jonah Hill who takes his first turn at bat behind the camera. And there’s really not much of a story either. This sincere little coming of age film is perfectly content to simply sit back and observe. No preaching and no lecturing. Many won’t get it. Some won’t like it as it is deeply steeped in a setting specific to Hill’s own upbringing in the skating culture of 90’s-era Los Angeles. But his vivid depiction of that fractious period in a young person’s life – between adolescence and adulthood, when young boys are struggling to find themselves, surpasses the specifics of the situation. In a word, it is simply brilliant.

Appropriate to the period, the film is lo-fi and shot on 16mm film, acknowledging its setting’s precarious perch on the tipping point of an analog world about to go digital. Similarly, Hill’s lead character – a young boy named Stevie (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), is desperately teetering on the edge of manhood. His mostly absent single mother (Katherine Waterston, Alien: Covenant) does the best she can, while his abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea) beats him on a regular basis. If his life education is to come from the home front, Stevie stands little chance.

"it ticks off all the expected boxes of nearly every coming-of-age film before it. But what is refreshing and delightfully unexpected is the tender loving touch afforded by a first-time filmmaker"


Fortunately it doesn’t, as one day Stevie wanders into a local skate shop where he is befriended by a band of skateboarders who are older than he, and certainly way more cool. They are the kind more content with skating the day away on whatever piece of concrete that shows itself while hurling a tirade of non-PC names and insults at one another. Stevie soon learns that thanking someone as a regular act of civil discourse might as well be the same as confessing to his own homosexuality. In this circle, being nice isn’t cool, but Stevie soon learns that smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and doing drugs is.

There’s a natural pecking order to the group, and Stevie understands and accepts his place in that strata. Content to fetch water and gratuitously laugh at their jokes, Stevie soon finds himself branded with a new nickname and a place to hangout with some really cool friends. He rarely talks, but his puppy dog grin speaks volumes about his loving acceptance into the clan.

There’s high-strung Ruben (Gio Galicia), pock-faced Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), curly-haired Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), and the leader of the bunch and only African American, Ray (Na-Kel Smith) who is on the verge of becoming a professional boarder.

Everything in Hill’s film feels authentic, including the characters who weren’t professional actors before the film, but rather actual skaters from the streets of Los Angeles. Though Hill is on the record as proclaiming that his film is not an autobiography, we get the feeling that he is capturing the spirit of a childhood and of a time in his life that he must still adore.

You don’t have to be a skateboarder to enjoy Mid90s. Simply being among the welcoming presence of these lovable knuckleheads will undoubtedly make you feel like one during the film’s brief 84 minute runtime. It is a movie about the value and power of friendship. And the need to get back on when life trips you up. It is sweet, familiar, funny, and loving, while at the same time dangerous, disheartening, gritty, and always perfectly rough around the edges. But most importantly, everything about the film feels real, like a comforting blanket of familiarity that takes us back to the moment each one of us realized the life-affirming importance of being accepted by someone outside of our own household. And that feeling is attributable to Hill’s loving script, an era-appropriate score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and a brilliant cast of characters that are as at home in the park as they are in front of the camera.

Mid90s - Movie Review

It is yet to be seen whether Hill will turn out to be the genius filmmaker he’s shown here, or if this is just a lucky first strike. All too often a filmmaker’s first project becomes a career high water mark, but I certainly hope it isn’t in this case. We need more films like this. Films that touch us. Films that take us on a journey. And those that inspire.

Nothing in Mid90s is necessarily new or groundbreaking. In fact, it ticks off all the expected boxes of nearly every coming-of-age film before it. But what is refreshing and delightfully unexpected is the tender loving touch afforded by a first-time filmmaker.

5 stars

Mid90s - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime:
84 mins
Director
: Jonah Hill
Writer:
Jonah Hill
Cast:
Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Genre
: Drama | Comedy
Tagline:
Fall. Get Back Up.
Memorable Movie Quote: "We'll pray. We'll pray. We'll pray for the last time. We'll pray."
Theatrical Distributor:
A24
Official Site: www.mid90s.movie
Release Date:
October 16, 1976
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: Follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

Mid90s - Movie Review

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Mid90s - Movie Review

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