Mid90s Review: Jonah Hill takes audiences on a new ride through skateboard culture.
With a title like “Mid90s,” many going-in would probably expect the film to be filled with ton of pop-culture references and rely heavily on being nostalgic. But acclaimed actor Jonah Hill wanted to do something more for his first directorial outing and has created a film that relies much more on having a strong character than showing off your favorite 90s cartoon.
Don’t get me wrong, there are sprinkles of recognizable 90s flair seen throughout the film and even seeing its two main characters play Twisted Metal on their couch put on a smile on my face. Mid90s feels like so much more, though, as it focuses on 13-year-old Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, who finds himself desiring to leave his lonely existence behind and join a new group of friends that are deep in the L.A. skateboarding community.
Suljic really shows why he is truly an actor to watch as he brings great energy to Stevie’s desire to belong making it all feel completely natural. Stevie’s desire to try to escape from his relentless older brother, played by Lucas Hedges, and his broken home make him a character to easily sympathize with, but Sujlic make you care even further for his well-being by showcasing Stevie’s emotional inner demons. His journey feels incredibly unique and seeing him grow will undoubtedly make any viewer emotional.
The biggest surprise for me, though, and the best performance of the film had to be from Na-kel Smith as the leader of Stevie’s group, Rey. His character has some incredible writing attached to him and at first glance he could be written off as just another kid who loves skateboarding. Rey, however, is shed some deeper light and I loved how aware of his surroundings he was and how hard he desires to work to better himself. It felt surprising and I really have to commend Hill for creating characters that feeling deep beyond a viewer’s first impressions of them.
The cast is rounded out by a young cast that is incredibly fun and has a solid dynamic. There’s some great lines that Hill puts into each character and they all have a sense of teen angst that will audiences really feel like they are back in the 90s.
The only places where I found myself struggling is with the way the film is paced as Hill’s inspirations drawn from filmmaker Harmony Korine are very evident and I am generally just not a fan of this kind of storytelling. There’s kind of a lack of through-line plot, something I have seen throughout Korine’s work, is a pretty big part of Mid90s and it’s just not something I found myself loving. It’s more of a character study if anything and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I constantly found myself feeling a little side-tracked from Stevie’s story from time to time. This also caused the film to drag a bit with the pacing from time to time, which was kind of odd considering the film’s short runtime.
Even with these issues, Hill has created a truly unique film experience though his excellent shots and great character writing. The film really has moments that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon and the fact that Hill has created such an emotional story with such a young cast, truly shows how talented he is. Maybe there will be some buzz for Hill and company when awards season comes around, but even if they don’t, Mid90s was quite the wild ride.