by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 24, 2018


Jonah Hill's "Mid90s" is an admirable debut film by the actor-turned-writer/director, focusing on a thirteen-year-old named Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a boy who is living in '90s-era Los Angeles.

Stevie escapes a troubled home where he lives with an occasionally neglectful mother, Dabney, (Katherine Waterston), and a frequently abusive older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges), by becoming friends with an eclectic crew of teenage skateboarders. There's Ruben (Gio Galicia), the youngest in the group next to Stevie; Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), a quiet high schooler who is constantly filming his friends' skating; the humorously named Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), whose long hair and carefree attitude combines with a penchant attraction to partying; and Ray (Na-kel Smith), who is the only one in the group who seems to take skateboarding as more than just a hangout activity, and more so a pathway to a future outside his current situation.

Herein lies the movie's most fascinating aspect, as it follows a young boy, sans father figure, who immerses himself in a group of five older male influences who shape his coming of age. When Stevie is accepted into the group, and nicknamed "Sunburn," Suljic brings a natural delight to the young character's face. "I made it," we can see Stevie thinking through the half-smile on his face, "I'm cool." But Suljic also brings great nuance into the performance, especially in the moments where we sense an internal struggle between what he believes to be right and wrong.

It's a strikingly accurate portrayal of juvenile masculinity, with coarse language and sexually-explicit wordplay leading these characters' conversations, and also captures the universal curse/ecstasy of youth where one believes they are invincible and incapable of death. It's a slice of life with a minimally complicated story structure: Boy meets friends, boy is influenced by friends, boy learns more about himself through friends. As an adult male, much of the dialogue and actions on screen made me cringe as they propelled me back to an era where I was admittedly stupid and unprepared for life. For other adult males in the audience, often laughing at moments not intended for humor outside of the characters' own infantile perceptions of the world, "Mid90s" creates a far more uncomfortable experience.

This duality of male reaction to the film is where I struggled most with Hill's film, which is honest in its portrait of masculine immaturity and aversion to authority, yet far less introspective as to the men these boys become. There are interesting dichotomies taking place in the relationships between Stevie and Ian, as well as Stevie and Ray, but the film does little to expand upon these ideas. Much of the work's philosophy floats aimlessly through a film that feels equally as inconsequential. There's much fun and intrigue to be had in hanging with these characters, but I'd like to have seen Hill invest more in the ideas he's putting on the table. There are, admittedly, other problem areas, such as the film's excessive use of certain expletives (both the N-word and F-word frequently come into play) that feel rightfully placed when taking the characters into account, yet are equally uncomfortable when considering Hill sitting at his computer and writing them..

A worthy debut overall, "Mid90s" showcases a fantastic ensemble cast led by a filmmaker finding his footing. With slight thematic brutalities akin to Larry Clark's "Kids" and subtle nods to the youth-meets-the-big-bad-world story arc of Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," this film does a lot of things right, yet leaves much to be desired at the same time. It's worth your time for many reasons, but don't be surprised if certain elements leave you wanting more or questioning the decisions made by Hill.



Stevie :: Sunny Suljic
Ian :: Lucas Hedges
Ray :: Na-kel Smith
Ruben :: Gio Galicia
Fourth Grade :: Ryder McLaughlin
Estee :: Alexa Demie
Dabney :: Katherine Waterston
F...s... :: Olan Prenatt


Director :: Jonah Hill
Screenwriter :: Jonah Hill
Producer :: Scott Rudin
Producer :: Eli Bush
Producer :: Ken Kao
Producer :: Jonah Hill
Producer :: Lila Yacoub
Executive Producer :: Scott Robertson
Executive Producer :: Jennifer Semler
Executive Producer :: Alex Scott
Cinematographer :: Christopher Blauvelt
Film Editor :: Nick Houy
Original Music :: Trent Reznor
Original Music :: Atticus Ross
Production Design :: Jahmin Assa
Costume Designer :: Heidi Bivens
Casting :: Allison Jones