Film review: Mid90s – Jonah Hill’s soulful directorial debut ★★★★☆

3 mins read
Image result for mid90s stills
Credit: EW.

Best known for playing large and loud characters in The Wolf of Wall Street and 21 Jump Street, director Jonah Hill retreats into the sun-washed wasteland of suburban Los Angeles for this tender study of young boy’s quest for community.

Fuelled by Nineties nostalgia, this skateboarding coming-of-age drama invites you to climb into the frame and hang out in the fringes of society with its band of misfits.

The delightful Sunny Suljic plays 13-year old Stevie – a wide-eyed kid who lives with his antagonistic big brother, Iain (Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges) and single-mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston) – who wanders past a skateshop and sees the brotherly bond between four friends that he’s desperately craving.

Like a stray dog, Stevie hangs around long enough to be accepted by Ray (Na-Kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder Mclaughlin) and Ruben (Gio Galicia), winning their friendship by imitating their skating stunts to bone-breaking success.

Evoking the same sense of wonderment as early Steven Spielberg movies, like ET and The Goonies, the skateboarding clique of Mid90s are an archetypal Losers’ Club with rougher edges.

Fourth Grade, Ray, Ruben, Stevie and Fuckshit – the brilliantly named characters of Mid90s. Credit: The Harvard Crimson

The first-hour is cleverly spent in their company: smoking, drinking and gliding through the streets of LA, which is stunningly captured on 16mm film and framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, a confident touch from a first-time filmmaker.

To his misfortune, Hill remembers he’s making a film and the final third serves some abrupt tonal shifts. Like rapidly flicking a light-switch, moments of light and dark supersede one another in a tension mounting bid, before a well signposted climax.

An earlier, misplaced scene of what amounts to grooming, is sorely uncomfortable. Although handled delicately, it adds little texture to the film, instead, serving as shock value in a run time punctuated by them.

Hedges, indie cinema’s standby sensitive teen (seen in Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards), shows some early promise in a different role, which sadly fades from focus.

Yet, this doesn’t detract from a passionately produced, occasionally funny and progressively minded film from Hill which adds a poverty line perspective to the famously wholesome tales of American adolescence. Plus, the skateboarding looks very cool.

Mid90s screened as the Opening Gala for the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival and receives its general release on April 12 2019. 

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