Above anything else, a directorial debut is the chance for an artist to define themselves onscreen for the first time, and for an established artist like Jonah Hill who’s given creative freedom and the privilege to do what they want, it’s a chance to make a statement. More than anything else, I left Mid90s feeling like Jonah Hill had made a film he was truly passionate about; the nuance in the cultural details and the deep theme of forging a family among friends is so particular it couldn’t be anything but lifted from his own experiences. There’s value in someone sharing something that’s close to their heart, and Mid90s is a rousing success.
13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in Los Angeles with his volatile older brother (Lucas Hedges) and his mom (Katherine Waterston), but he discovers a world of skateboarding outside his home and forms a tight bond with a group of older kids. The young ensemble, particularly the five lead kids, give completely authentic performances, and most importantly their chemistry is believable. A majority of the film relies on their simple, profanity-laced dialogue, and while the dialogue in of itself isn’t neccessarily a revelation, its the conviction within the delivery that makes the film feel so realistic.
The film isn’t very plot driven, and mostly chronicles Stevie’s experiences over a series of months; we see his friendships develop overtime and slowly drift from his rough family life to his new life with friends, and the simple bonding moments are very entertaining. There’s a charm to Stevie’s bluntness and innocence, and seeing him slowly transition into a different person is often humorous, which make the darker elements all the more effective.
Mid90s is fairly standard coming of age stuff to begin with, but as the film reaches its closing chapters it becomes something more special. The ending features one of the most genuinely gut wrenching moments I’ve seen this year and transitions onto a very moving reflection on the experiences of our characters and their journey. Perhaps that was the point of the film- to reflect on the seemingly unimportant moments of our youth that we can look back at fondly, even if it wasn’t all great. A terrific slice of life story about a culture we don’t really see in films often, Mid90s is a consistently amusing and complete coming of age story. Grade: B+