With Mid90s, writer-director Jonah Hill has begun to lay a foundation for what will be a different trajectory in his career. The coming of age story is set in Los Angeles in the early 90s and is steeped in the counterculture of SoCal skate life. The feature-length directorial debut tells the story of 13-year-old Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic), trying to find his adolescent place in life.
Stevie lives under the tyrannical and unpredictable anger of big brother Ian (played by Lucas Hedges) in an affectionate single-mother household.
Mid90s makes apt use of its title – it is the story of a kid stuck in the midst of growing up, of being a boy and a teenager.
When Stevie meets a group of older teenage skaters, he is enveloped into their group and begins to forge his own path as his own person.
Mid90s accurately represents the pain of finding your way when you don’t necessarily have that mirror role model to look up to (or to diverge from).
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Watching Mid90s it was hard not to draw parallels to Shane Meadows’ semi-autobiographical coming of age story This Is England.
Though very different in aesthetic, and accent, the two movies chart similar trajectories in tone and development.
Some scenes ring so similar one can’t help but wonder if Hill has seen Meadows’ 2007 film which spawned a BAFTA-winning miniseries.
Setting aside similarities to other coming of age movies, Hill strikes the difficult balance between nostalgia and authenticity in Mid90s, informing but not dictating the dialogue and style.
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The supporting cast has a huge part to play in creating both an emotional and environmental landscape against which Stevie plays, despite its sometimes surface treatment of its characters.
Anger is a big part of Mid90s, and the toxic ways in which boys are taught to deal with it.
Older brother Ian repeatedly uses Stevie as a literal punching bag, while F*cksh*t (played by Olan Prenatt) stifles his fears in drinking and drugs.
But it is Ray (played by American skateboarder, fashion designer, rapper, songwriter and actor Na-Kel Smith) who offers Stevie an outlet for the emotion he thinks he has to bury. Talking to each other.
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Katherine Waterson as Stevie’s mother Dabney does a lot with very little, giving a passionate performance, although she is sometimes stifled by being presented as simply a plot device.
At times Mid90s shows itself to be Hill’s debut, with two-dimensional dialogue, ticking off genre-bound plot points, and a denouement which feels slightly hamfisted.
But Mid90s also shows promise for Jonah Hill’s future moviemaking, whose scope may hopefully extend past adolescent tales.
And – as if it had to be said of a film with such a title – its soundtrack is impeccable.
Mid90s is now playing in UK cinemas.