It’s fairly easy to make a nostalgic film; all one needs is a handful of well-researched references. But to craft a story that captures an essence of a period as well as timelessness of human struggle, that’s something all together different.
mid90s is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill (who also wrote it). The story follows the young Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he follows a group of teenage skaters, looking for a validation and care that he doesn’t get at home.
Jonah Hill is known for being quite a prolific actor, but who would have said that he was an equally nuanced and subtle writer/director? The film starts out innocently enough, and you expect something similar to a Linklater film or Lady Bird, but Hill guides Stevie to a much darker place, as we see the young boy corrupted into a brash form of adulthood. The film is structured with small vignettes of Stevie’s life (the film seems to take place over a couple of months), this aspect helps give impact to each individual scene, but it does make the film’s pace seem slower, as there is no clear outline that the audience can follow. Thankfully, Hill is aware of the sluggish pace and thus has his film cut down to less than 1hr and 30 minutes, balancing everything out.
Hill chooses to hire mostly first-time or unknown actors, and given the difficulty and complexity of each character, the cast proves exceptional up to the task. Hill traces an arc for each character, so that the insecurities and the ensuing arrogance come off as tragic rather than obnoxious. Each character isn’t written to be likeable, with the mistakes each makes and habits adding to a sense of realism; fortunately such a choice doesn’t taking away from our rooting for them, it simply adds depth.
However, being a first time director, there is a noticeable rookie mistake. The camera positioning seems to break the 180 degree line that helps the audience position itself in a scene; this broken rule results in many scenes becoming disorienting with our characters scattered throughout, you sometimes can’t tell who a character is addressing when talking.
But such nitpickiness shouldn’t be enough to dissuade you. mid90s is a film that you slowly sink into; by the time it’s over, you suddenly realize how attached you’ve gotten to all its characters. Hill has debuted like a pro, delivering a complete and powerful coming-of-age story.