Jonah Hill’s first turn behind the camera sees him fondly remembering and capturing the time in which he grew up.
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a nostalgia driven love letter to 90’s skate culture that (most of the time) hits its mark. We follow 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he becomes infatuated with skateboarding through a group of older teens that take him under their wings and give him a crash course in life including sex, drugs, alcohol, and life lessons. His newfound passion and friends give him an escape from his rocky life at home as he navigates everything that comes with his newfound freedom.
Mid90s is a coming of age tale contained in a 90’s period piece. Thoughtfully written and shot, it sways from an iridescent comedy to heartfelt drama. There’s something endearing about the way Hill remembers and subsequently portrays the 90’s. A raw, real, and free time in which kids, free from the distraction of cell phones and social media, actually had to forge real friendships and run with them. Hill doesn’t know exactly what he wants to say, but he knows how he wants to say it. Mid90s is a passion project if there ever was one, which works to its advantage as well as its adversary.
While there is clearly real, palpable passion and endearment pouring from behind the camera onto the screen, the film doesn’t always have a clear sense of where it wants to go or what it wants to say. It feels like a summer breeze blowing through the suburbs of L.A., warm and welcome, but not leaving much of a lasting impact. Mid90s spends minimal time on developing sound, intriguing characters and instead uses its runtime to highlight the life experiences that Stevie has. Trying but not always succeeding in letting his experiences fill us in on his character more than anything else.
To say that the film lacks story is a misrepresentation, but the plot and overall arc does feel a bit half-baked, like much of what Hill was attempting to say has to do with the simple love for the time and little else. The experiences that the mark the story throughout though are so personal and feel so autobiographical that they help to mask the true lack of a solid conflict, and smooth over the inconsistencies with the overall sense over wonder and freedom that Mid90s accentuates.
The film’s supporting cast is also a highlight. Olan Prenatt’s understated, brain dead performance as the aptly named Fuckshit is a perfect, almost too stereotypical of what is oftentimes associated with skate culture in general. The standout performance however, comes from Nak-El Smith as Ray, the most mature of the group of skaters who dreams of going pro. He’s more self-aware than the others, he acts as the “responsible” one and the leader of the squad. Smith hits the most emotional pay dirt with his welcome performance as he helps Stevie through his struggles at home, while at the same time offering him an escape from the domestic hell he’s trapped in.
While Mid90s doesn’t always pack the punch it wishes, it offers enough consistent and genuinely fun aspects to entertain general audiences and embrace anyone wishing to reminisce about their childhood freedoms and adventures. There is a lot to like and a little to love. Either way, Jonah Hill packs enough raw nostalgia into the short 1 hour 24 minute runtime for most everyone to find something to enjoy.