Okay, so truth be told I was a little bit hesitant about watching Mid90s at first. The trailer looked awesome, it reminded me vaguely of one of the best films of all time, Larry Clark’s gem, written by Harmony Korine, KIDS. I think because I thought that formula was not one to be f****d with, and also because I don’t like nostalgia pieces about a time when I was older than a baby because it makes me feel old. I wasn’t sure about the movie at first. Then I watched it.
Writer and director Jonah Hill, who rose to fame via the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen comedy pipeline, is the same age as I am, actually a few months younger than me. He grew up in LA, skating, and you can tell while watching Mid90s. Everything, from the soundtrack (“Liquid Swords” by GZA plays during one scene, “Wave of Mutilation” by The Pixies in another) to the wardrobe (Wu-Wear shirts, baggy jeans, beanie hats, skate company shirts) takes me immediately back to my middle and high school years of trying to find myself and my friends.
This may sound corny, but Mid90s is genuinely about the power of friendship. Our chief protagonist, Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a pre-teen living with his single mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston), and older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges in a short, somewhat quiet, but violently powerful performance). His brother hits him a lot and generally treats him like human garbage. His mom is rarely there. Stevie sometimes results to episodes of self-harm because you can tell he feels stuck and perhaps doomed.
“While visiting a local skate shop, he befriends a local skate crew composed of teenagers of all ages…”
While visiting a local skate shop, he befriends a local skate crew composed of teenagers of all ages. We have Ray (Na-kel Smith), the mature one who could very well become a pro skater. Then there’s Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) who acquired his name for saying “F**k, S**t” after every time he does a cool trick on his board and is obviously the party animal of the crew. Next is 4th grade (Ryder McLaughlin), who earned his nickname for being so dumb it’s like he’s in the 4th grade, but his secret passion is to be a film director. Finally, Reuben (Gino Galicia), another kid who’s as young as Stevie, but uses his cool-points in the group to try to boss Stevie around.
The actors who form the skate crew were all skaters in Los Angeles. Jonah Hill strove for authenticity everywhere throughout the film, and it’s 100% apparent in the choices he made. I have to be honest that if you told me 5 years ago, “Hey Jonah Hill is going to make this super poignant, nuanced, yet hilarious coming-of-age story set during the time you grew up,” I would have told them to shut up. I am very pleasantly surprised by how well-done this film was and how accurate it is to the scene it represents. I can only hope that Hill decides to direct more because he’s really good at it.
I can’t end this review without mentioning Lucas Hedges’ performance. His character Ian is 18, obsessed with rap and lifting weights, and for whatever reason, he feels the need to beat the s**t out of his brother on a semi-regular basis. His toxic masculinity springs from being raised by a young mother who took better care raising his brother along with having no positive male role models. His anger comes from having no one to talk to, and no one who really understands him. He reminds me of a lot of the jerks that went to my school who wore giant polos, JNCO pants and thought they were “the bomb” but were actually just scared, little boys. Ian is a perfect prototype for a specific kind of 90’s high school a*****e that I’m sure every single one of us encountered.
“Jonah Hill strove for authenticity everywhere throughout the film, and it’s 100% apparent…”
Oh, one more thing. Mid90’s and KIDS are two very separate entities, even style-wise. KIDS seems to stew in the darkness of the subject matter, which I think has a lot more to do with the director than the writer. Mid90’s though has its spots of violence and tragedy, the ending is markedly happier than Larry Clark’s film. Then again there are few films that aren’t happier than KIDS’ ending, but that’s a story for another time. There is one holdover from KIDS that makes its way into Mid90s, but you’re going to have to see it to find out. If you blink, you might miss it, so pay attention.
Go see this movie. Take your pre-teen who’s going through an awkward phase to see it (if you let them watch stuff with bad language and underage drinking, I should say). Or if you were a kid who came of age in the actual mid 90’s, this will give you an aching nostalgia for your youth.
Mid90s (2018) Written and directed by Jonah Hill. Starring Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin.
9 out of 10 Stars