By: Jessica Goddard
Mid90s is a coming-of-age period piece, chronicling how a mild 13-year-old boy finds acceptance and belonging with a reckless crowd of skateboarders. Our pint-sized protagonist, Stevie (Sunny Suljic), perfectly captures the in-the-middleness suggested by the title – we can’t help but see a child when he’s next to his older (taller) friends, but the mischief he gets up to makes him feel much more adult than we’re comfortable with.
His friends aren’t bad per se, they’re just directionless for the most part. And the implication is that Stevie aspires to join their clique because his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) alternates between being distant and explicitly violent. Their mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) seems like a nice lady, but is relatively young and in over her head as a single mom to two teenage boys. So Stevie makes it his mission to hang around the skate shop until the older, wilder teens he thinks are so cool gradually absorb him into the group.
Everything about the look and feel of the film evokes 1990s Los Angeles, from the abrasive language to the loose, vaguely-emblazoned shirts and baggy pants. To remind us what life was like before smartphones, there’s video games, a Discman, and a handheld video camera manned by one of Stevie’s skateboarder friends. An early scene sees Stevie combing through his older brother’s CD collection wearing a Street Fighter II t-shirt. Speaking of which, the music in the film is impressively curated, adding a final dimension that makes the time and place feel authentic.
Written and directed by Jonah Hill (of 21 and 22 Jump Street), the wonderfully varied characters in Mid90s demonstrate Hill’s emotional range as a writer. But then there are moments when the movie withdraws from its casual, slice-of-life style and starts to feel more like a capital-S Script. That said, Hill wisely avoids making a big metaphorical deal of Stevie’s progress as a skateboarder. Despite the movie poster’s “fall. get back up.” tagline, it’s more about Stevie’s loss of innocence than it is about learning to board – perfect for those of us less interested in skating but willing to go along for the ride to see what Jonah Hill has to offer as a creative force.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod