Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is something really rather special – and here’s our review of Mid90s.
Director: Jonah Hill
Cast: Sunny Suljic, Na-kel Smith, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
Release date: 12th April
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek
Jonah Hill was born in 1983, making the Oscar-nominated actor, now turned writer, director and producer, around the same age as his lead character in Mid90s (his feature film directorial debut) during the time period in question. Choosing to shoot on 16mm in 4:3 ratio, with references to 90s pop culture sprinkled throughout – from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bedding and the display of baseball caps on the bedroom wall, to Blockbuster Video and the organisation of home-recorded cassette tapes – this is Hill’s love letter to his childhood.
With an unsatisfactory life at home, no father figure to speak of, and an abusive older brother (Lucas Hedges), 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) seeks out new male role models in the form of the local skate gang – Fourth Grade, Ruben, F***s***, and leader Ray (a stand-out performance from Na-kel Smith). With aspirations to become one of the ‘cool kids’ and eager to impress, Stevie shows a fearlessness which soon gains him the respect of the group and the nickname ‘Sunburn’.
Hill has been vocal about the reasoning behind his decision to cast (mainly) non-actors, opting to visit skate parks to find his characters, to capture their natural talent for skateboarding, and to create an honest portrayal of friendship and an authentic sense of community. The tone and cadence of the dialogue will likely draw comparisons with the writing of Harmony Korine (specifically 1995’s Kids), with thematic similarities to coming of age films This Is England, Boyhood and Son Of Rambow.
As with Korine’s writing, there are a few problematic moments: the casual use of racial slurs, unaddressed self-harm, and a sex scene that feels like Almost Famous’ deflowering sequence gone wrong. However, these issues are allayed by what is clearly intended to be a pure and joyful representation of kinship, and a reminder of the anarchic freedom in youth. It also boasts one of the finest film soundtracks of recent years – featuring The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, and a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Anyone who grew up during the 90s or spent their teenage years in skate parks will fall in love with this nostalgia-heavy ode to a time gone by. The flawed yet lovable group of misfits are fully developed and relatable, and as the film ends you’ll find yourself wishing you could have spent more time with them.