By Jack Dignan
There’s no-doubt a lot to love in Jonah Hill’s provocative directorial debut, Mid90s. It’s bold, brutal and funny, and Hill gives it his absolute all as a director, but yet it’s a film I was never destined to fall in love with. We all have them. They’re the ones we know are, from an objective point of view, good, but ones that we, subjectively, just can’t get into. Some people hate musicals. Others hate action films. For me, films that glorify the lifestyle presented in this movie never land.
It’s something about this culture, this way of life, and the celebratory approach films like Kids take towards it (granted, I do like Kids mostly thanks to its grim third act) that I can never buy into. I don’t enjoy watching it on screen, so the idea of watching Mid90s raised a curiosity inside of me, especially thanks to a fantastic trailer, but ultimately, I knew which way my feelings were going to swing, and they did exactly that. So, if these types of stories are up your alley, rest assured Jonah Hill has made one of the greats.
But what story is this, exactly? It’s a coming of age movie of sorts, albeit dealt with from a much younger perspective than we’re accustomed to. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is struggling to find his place in this world. His older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) only ever shows him attention through violence, and he can never quite fit in with the right crowd. To escape his troubled home life and survive the summer, he befriends a group of older kids at a local skate park, who take Stevie under their wing and introduce him to a world far more mature than he’s ever experienced.
We follow Stevie through a premature exploration of adulthood in this strangely pedophilic glorification of the illegal that struggles to make any sort of argument or statement about life, outside of “hey, if you find the right crowd then it doesn’t matter how much alcohol and drugs you’re giving to an eleven year old.” It’s… puzzling, to say the least. But Hill goes all in, and a lot of the crowd seemed to be really digging it. In a lot of ways, its authenticity is incomparable, meaning those who are hit by it are going to be hit hard, but from someone who didn’t grow up in this culture, it’s an almost alienating watch.
It’s certainly a testament to Hill’s prowess as a writer that he’s capable of capturing such strong human emotion, especially in his film debut no less, but there’s a strong distance between the audience and the story. A lot of the time, the plot barely feels like it’s there. It’s a time capsule of the 90s that goes out of its way to avoid being nostalgic, yet at the same time struggles to find any threads of a narrative until it’s a little too late to care. Hedges’ character gets some powerful, subtle closure, but everything else, especially Katherine Waterston’s arc, sort of comes out of the blue.
If there’s one major takeaway from Mid90s, however, it’s that Sunny Suljic is going to be a STAR. After brief appearances in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the more recent family horror flick The House with a Clocks in its Walls, Suljic finally gets the leading role he deserves, and this kid is seriously going places in life. Mid90s may be a bit of a mixed bag, but Suljic’s career has never looked so promising. Years from now we’re going to look back on his success and wonder where it all began, and his performance here is one hell of a way to kick things off.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: