I should preface this review with a very obvious fact. I never grew up in the 90s. I’m 19 so my memories of my brief time in that decade are non-existent. Even taking this into account I don’t believe that Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, is anything to write home about. That is not to say the film that had its UK Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival is bad, it’s not “it killed my cat” bad, everything ends up being slightly middle of the road.
The performances are good to great across the board especially in the case of Sunny Suljic who the film centres around. He plays the child, nicknamed Sunburn, in the centre of the story, slightly out of place in the world, in awe of a crew of friends/skaters that take him under their wing. Everything from the clear lack of world knowledge to the egging up yourself to look better in front of your pals is all their in the nostalgia that transcends the decades. Suljic does well to carry the film on his own and it is impossible not to relate on some level to the things he went through in the film
Sunburn is paralleled by his brother, played by Hollywood’s best sadboy Lucas Hedges, in terms of not fitting in and trying to be something they’re not. In some ways the mother (Katherine Waterstone) is like this too, its hinted that her past was very different from who she is now, a caring an loving mother. Unfortunately Sunburn, and by effect us, don’t spend enough time with either of them to get to know them to the full effect.
The skate crew he falls in where many of the films key relationships take place, each member much older than Sunburn all with these clearly stereotypical character traits for these kinds of dramas. One of them is a budding filmmaker, another has big dreams of leaving the area they’re from and reaching for the stars. There is a tremendous sense of love in the group despite the very pigeon-holed personalities which make for a great watch seeing them interact with one and other
However, in the film this gang leads him into uncomfortable situations for the audience, not only does he drink and smoke (which have a place and feel natural in the movie), there is an awkwardly forced in the sex scene between the THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD lead and a TWENTY FOUR YEAR OLD actress. Nothing is explicitly shown other than the two standing about in underwear kissing but the scene feels out of place and terrible. Other side stories can feel like this but never as outright terrible or unnecessary as this scene in their case they’re either unresolved or poorly put together.
It’s very clearly an A24 coming of age film. The film studio has managed to carve out this as almost a brand over the last couple of years, each with their own unique setting while remaining mostly the same. Lady Bird was the early 2000s, Eighth Grade is the in the post-snapchat world and, Mid90s is set in, well obviously, the 90s. It matches the tone and feels authentic to the film but there is more to it. A sense of nostalgia that is not restricted to the setting of the movie, it is universal no matter when you grew up, its that of this sweet feeling of being in amazement of those older than you and thinking they’re the coolest gang in the world.
As I said, Mid90s brings nothing new to the table. Its fake exterior and some completely uncomfortable scenes are a sad parallel to the story of this coming of age movie. It is almost as if Hill is trying to be someone he’s not to impress the A24 crowd. When you look past all that though there is a perfectly acceptable film about change and friendship with a great lead and chemistry between characters. A solid but predictable start for Hill but, I am excited to see what he does next.