On the surface, Mid90s is Jonah Hill’s nostalgia for the grit and quirks of the 90s skate scene come to life. In execution, it’s an occasionally lyrical collection of splashes of life in all its agony and ecstasy.
We meet Stevie, later to be dubbed Sunburn, as he painstakingly scours his big brother’s (Lucas Hedges in a slight, but true-to-form role) room, making lists, seeking inspiration to find the perfect birthday present. He stares at the baseball caps, tapes and shoes with wonder, as if basking in the treasures of a fine museum. These are the altars of his ultimate idol. But later, when it’s wrapped and carefully presented, it’s not his brother, but his mother (a largely absent — and therefore wasted — Katherine Waterston) who takes notice of the pains and pureness of heart behind it. The gift’s recipient only has contempt, for everyone and everything in his world.
Cut to Stevie, wandering the streets of LA on a hot summer’s day. He sees a band of youths in front of a store, their eyes wild and animated, their jubilation plain as they throw themselves alternately into skateboard tricks and having a go at the neighboring store owners who nag at them. One look and Stevie is hooked. He has a new model after which to mold his image and he wades into the store and into their world.
What follows are glimpses of familiar beats: The thrill and delight of finding yourself liked, the overwhelm of meeting new people and learning the customs of a clique. The exhilaration of youthful rebellion. Watching all of this from well beyond the other side of college, the instinct is to read this moments as we experience them now — adults ruffled by the loitering and callous jokes — but when we peel back that perspective and rejoin Stevie’s lens, those moments don’t feel so small, so ritual or so tiresome. They’re suddenly a glimpse of the as yet unexperienced and misunderstood freedom and joy that comes when you’re surrounded by people of your own choosing, instead of those the genetic lottery gave you.
And so Mid90s feels a trifling thing. A series of vignettes loosely linked and light on a proper plot, it doesn’t quite manage a 90-minute runtime. But intentionally or not, it does play like the fuzzy memories of adolescence, where the moments we deem important remain and everything else fades away.
Hill finds a way to infuse a kind of sweetness into a series of scenes where a preteen kid is introduced to drugs, alcohol, sex and wild sexism by kids only a handful of years older than he is. It’s not a fondness for a time when every guy who had never so much as seen a breast bragged about “fucking all these bitches,” that makes these scenes surprisingly emotive, but a recognition of the honesty therein. Sure, the kid who teaches you to swear isn’t your mom’s favorite person, but when we see how much his open heart means when it really matters, it’s hard not to see a kind of beauty in the way these “broken” kids look after each other.
Mid90s is a tough sit. It’s light on complexity and lacks urgency, but at turns it soars on unvarnished earnestness and some pretty heavyweight performances from a crowd of unknown kids. This first outing from Jonah Hill isn’t without its issues, but it’s a promising start for the kid who was once known exclusively for his ability to make jokes about dick-shaped foods.
Director: Jonah Hill
Writer: Jonah Hill:
Runtime: 1h 24mins
Release date: October 26, 2018
Main image credit: Tobin Yelland