In his directorial debut, Jonah Hill (Superbad, The Wolf of Wall Street) brings us mid90s, a coming-of-age tale set amidst the skater culture of the 1990s. The film follows Stevie, a thirteen year-old boy who struggles to fit in with his new, older friend group while also dealing with issues at home.
First and foremost, do not go into this movie expecting that – since it is from the mind of Jonah Hill – it will be the goofy/raunchy comedy to which most of his career has been dedicated. No — this is a much more complex, artistic film, and while there are touches of raunch here and there, it is always for the purpose of developing the protagonist rather than getting a cheap laugh.
That being said, the movie is still quite funny. There was a lot of great situational comedy throughout and also plenty of hilariously-written dialogue. Perhaps the funniest scene in the film involves a security guard played by Jerrod Michael, as the protagonist and his friends exchange repartee with him. This scene in particular shows the amount of talent both behind and in front of the camera.
The movie also does an excellent job of developing the protagonist. He is (for the most part) likable and relatable, and the story really captures the essence of what it means to be going through adolescence. Although some elements of the story are slightly exaggerated, the overall tone and feel are quite sincere. This is especially the case in the scenes between the protagonist and his mother. The mother, while maybe used too sparingly, is an effective tool to complement the protagonist and establish realism.
However, the film contains many of the issues to which first-time directors are typically particularly susceptible. For example, the movie struggled with its rhythm at times: some scenes are too long, feeling overly self-indulgent, whereas other scenes feel like they are cut short. Additionally, there are a few scenes that didn’t totally work. While they won’t be discussed in detail to prevent spoilers, it should be obvious as to which scenes these are that were jarring.
Additionally, the character of the brother didn’t work particularly well in the story. He needed to be developed more thoroughly and given more to do in the story. Yes, the character does provide a few strong scenes, but the film definitely could have done more to explore the antagonism and relationship between him and Stevie. Instead, the character seems like it was inserted predominantly to push the plot along and was only given two or three truly deep scenes. This was also the weakest performance by Lucas Hedges yet.
The movie is pretty consistently well-executed, though. There is one scene whose quality is questionable, but otherwise, it is very strong. The visual style is impressive. The film embraces the retro feeling without lingering on nostalgia. The old school look and sound of the movie are used simply to show the universality of the story. This is how life was back then, and similarities can be seen with how life is today. Sunny Suljic’s lead performance is very compelling, too. He brings a lot of depth to the role, capturing the dichotomy of the character’s mature and immature qualities.
Overall, mid90s is a solid coming-of-age film. It has many funny moments, multiple endearing moments, and shows that Jonah Hill is not just a talented actor, but also an up-and-coming filmmaker.
mid90s is now playing in select theaters and expands October 26.