Cast: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Gio Galicia, Na-kel Smith
Director: Jonah Hill
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Mid90s 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.
As someone who has loved Jonah Hill’s work in the past, I was incredibly excited to see his transition from actor to director. In Hill’s debut Mid90s, we take a look into the life of Stevie (Suljic), a young boy growing up in an abusive household in Los Angeles in the 1990s who finds a group of friends that bond with him over their love of skateboarding and skate culture. Hill has a lot to say in this movie, but with a runtime of 84 minutes, there is not a lot of time to go in-depth to these issues. While the message itself is powerful and the acting from Suljic and Smith is incredible for someone their age, the lack of narrative and depth spent on complicated issues make Hill’s debut strong, but not elite.
For a first time director working with young actors that do not have much prior experience, Hill gets everything he can and more out of these actors. If this is the path that Suljic decides to go on, he will absolutely be an A-list actor one day. His performance is not only a blend of joy and raw emotion, but it is one of the most genuine performances I have seen this year. It truly feels as though the actors are a group of friends hanging out during the day instead of people being paid to be there, and this would not have been possible without the leadership and direction of Hill. Outside of Suljic, Na-Kel Smith’s performance as Ray may make him my favorite character of the year. Smith shows us not to make assumptions of people based on how they dress or what they look like, and I was so happy that Ray was the positive role model that Stevie needed in his life. Once again, this is on Hill to write a character who gives off the appearance of a burnout loser, but in reality, he is kind, caring, and driven to succeed. From a purely emotive standpoint, this is an incredibly enjoyable film and this would not have been possible with the work of Hill and his ability to write and direct the actors into something much more than what we are used to seeing in a directorial debut.
While Hill shows immense skill as a director through his actors, the story needed a bit of work for this to end up as an elite movie. This film covers a lot of difficult topics, from how children handle abuse, to race and class relations, to the perception of teenagers and skate culture in the 1990s, and the aforementioned 84 minute runtime makes it difficult to go in-depth into any of these topics. I would have liked to learn more about Sunny’s brother Ian (Hedges) and how he ended up so different from his brother and more about the backgrounds of Stevie’s friends instead of just having moments in passing that are supposed to explain the complexity of these issues. I am not sure if the movie just ran out of money or if there was a specific reason that it was so short, but the film could have used maybe 10 more minutes of screen time to help tighten these moments up. Outside of that, the film has no real narrative. Maybe this was the intention of Hill, but this movie truly is just 84 minutes of us following around a group of friends in Los Angeles. I guess you could say the narrative follows Stevie and his struggles, but it never feels like a story and more so a look into someone’s life instead. Some people may like the almost documentary feel to the movie supported by the fact that it looks like it was filmed on a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of a standard 16:9, but ultimately I wish the film was a little more clear with what it was trying to do.
Overall, while I truly did like Mid90s, deep down I wanted to like it so much more than what I came away feeling from it. Hill shows us that he will be one of the strongest young directors in the industry moving forward, but he still has some growing to do before he takes command of the industry. If Hill can generate performances out of future actors the way he did out of these young, inexperienced ones, then I firmly believe that one day he will put out a movie that changes the film landscape forever.
Overall Score: 7.5/10