Jonah Hill’s Mid90s is an affectionate, coming-of-age time capsule of skateboards, street life, hip-hop, pop culture moments and stoners.
Skater Boysby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Jonah Hill’s writing and directing debut follows 13-year-old Stevie as he bonds with a crew of new friends, skates and discovers new experiences Los Angeles circa 1995.
Stevie (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) lives with his kind mother (Katherine Waterston) and cold older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges, Ben is Back). It’s not an easy existence; the film opens with Stevie enduring one of a number of heavy beatings from his sibling.
Escaping his troubled home life, Stevie becomes captivated by a group of older teens who hang out at the local skateboard store and is soon tentatively accepted into their circle. He can’t hide the delight on his face when asked to fill up their water bottles while they skate.
Stevie’s new friends sit around and talk about nothing and, crucially, always skate. He soon gets his first taste of cigarettes and alcohol – although the crew are not always a bad influence, as one reminder about manners illustrates.
While some jealousies simmer amongst the skaters, Stevie fully initiates himself with a daring jump (which goes awry) and he is soon given a nickname. At a house party Stevie is granted classic teenage-boy wish fulfilment with the object of his affection, Alexa Demie’s channelling of a young Scarlett Johansson. At one stage Stevie feels the acute pain of being embarrassed in front of friends, while a throwaway comment of excitement about being in a parent-free car has a deeper meaning later on.
While not focusing heavily on the era, there are neat period touches with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter, VHS tapes and a treasured Discman. Much of the film is shot in soft focus to create a nostalgic throwback to a hazy, warm summer. A minor quibble with the dialogue is the repeated use of ‘sick’ as an enthusiastic adjective, although perhaps American teens were using that long before their British counterparts.
The film is well acted across the board. Suljic makes for an engaging and endearing lead, Hedges (with dyed hair and earrings) is convincing as the surly brother – who shows Stevie one belated moment of warmth – while Waterston, despite limited screen time, is a caring presence as their mother.
The performances of the skaters all ring true, with Na-kel Smith giving a particularly soulful performance as the leader, Ray. In one heart-to-heart with Stevie he reveals previously unknown hidden depths to the crew.
No doubt drawing upon his own teenage experiences of growing up in LA in the mid-90s, Hill has created an authentic portrayal of being young and finding your people.
Mid90s premiered in the UK at the Glasgow Film Festival and is released on 12 April 2019 in the UK.