Published on October 26th, 2018 | by Lucas Wunch0
It doesn’t take much to remember that Jonah Hill (writer and director) had already acted in one of the greatest coming-of-age movies at the age of 24. A cursory glance at Superbad shows it to be a hilarious and quotable movie. But a deeper look at the film reveals the true story. Two high school friends (Hill and Michael Cera) who realize they are drifting apart because of incoming adulthood and that they are powerless to stop it. Keeping that in mind, Hill was quoted during the production of Mid 90s as saying that coming-of-age films are cliché and what he really wanted was to make a skateboarding movie that avoided the 80s “cowabunga” tropes. The result of that focus is Mid 90s.
Sunny Suljic plays 13-year-old Stevie, a quiet and often confused boy looking to escape his bleak and abusive home life by connecting with a group of local skater kids. While Suljic absolutely steals the show with his superb acting, his (mostly no name) costars deserve massive kudos for this endeavor as well. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Three Billboards outside of Ebbing Missouri) plays Stevie’s abusive older brother Ian. Though he is quickly established in the opening shot as the antagonist, his character arc throughout the film is one of the greatest and you find yourself soon empathetic to his plight nearly as much as Stevie’s. The skater gang is comprised of Ray (Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), 4th Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and Ruben (Gio Galicia). These four seem apathetically content to take Stevie under their wing after he begins hanging out at their skate shop. During this time they expose Stevie to a world of drinking, smoking, drugs and sex as well as a complex set of personalities that Stevie struggles to understand but tries desperately to emulate. This reverence begins to lead him down a path that worry not only his mother and brother, but also occasionally members of his new social group. The actors playing his newfound friends all bring a beautiful authenticity to their roles. They certainly aren’t playing “themselves”, but their personalities don’t feel concocted or forced.
The original score for the film was done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as a selection of 1990s Hip Hop. And while the original music by Reznor and Ross accents the film perfectly, the 90s throwback songs struggle to do more than remind the viewer of the period and provide the sporadic nostalgia kick. In fact, most of the 90s nostalgia does little to add to the film. Thus, while the opportunity was there to give us a solid examination and social commentary on 1990s culture, Hill seems to fall short of that concept and instead uses the references as a gimmick to tie in smaller plot points.
In addition to the music, there are a few other elements that add to the hipster vintage nature of the film. It was shot entirely on 16mm and is presented in square 1:1 ratio. While this is certainly an unusual choice as more movies are shifted to wide screen formats and square televisions are no longer produced, it pushes the film closer towards the verité genre that is necessary to keep it within the indie style guide.
Mid 90s, along with Eighth Grade have positioned A24 studios in a fantastic place. They’ve demonstrated their willingness to get behind first time writer/directors and the results have been impressive to say the least. If they can remain on this type of pace I could see how the Academy would take notice come awards season.
So despite his view that they are cliché, Jonah Hill has once again created a poignant and powerful coming-of-age movie and he’s managed to wrap it into just enough skateboarding reality to give us the love letter he was hoping to produce. The film is not without its faults, but it’s not one you should miss.
3.5 stars out of 5
Mid-90s is a real look at our recent past, and a window into toxic masculinity.
A24, a relatively new production company, teamed with Jonah Hill to tell a gritty story. There are many possible ideologies as to the true nature of this story, and it’s quite possible all of them are right.
Mid-90s follows a young boy, Stevie (nicknamed Sunburn), and gives a chillingly accurate account of what life was like for many similar boys in the mid-1990s.
The level of historical immersion is incredible. From the props, clothes, and music, to even the entire film being shot in a square format, the attention to detail was impressive.
Stevie’s father isn’t around, and his older brother is not a good role model. Despite that, Stevie breaks into his brother’s room, trying to learn how to be man through investigation.
His efforts to fit in lead him to a new group of skater friends. He becomes enamored with the skate shop life, and does virtually anything that is put in front of him.
I grew up in the mid-90s, so my connection to the main character’s need to fit in hits me hard. Every decision, desire, and facial expression feel like something I felt at one point.
The actors were so on point with their delivery that it is hard to tell this is a scripted fiction, and not a few weeks filmed from the actual life of a young boy. I give high praise to the entire cast for truly exceptional acting.
What hit me most was how the film was a window into the source of toxic masculinity. Our society has had, and continues to have, a real problem with how we emotionally educate and care for young boys. This film expertly captures a small piece to that puzzle in a unique way.
This is required viewing for everyone.
5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewer: Christopher Daniels
Edited By: Jeff Boehm