Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a 13 year old kid living with his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). It’s the 90s, so we don’t have helicopter parents yet, no crazy attachment hyper-parenting bullshit. Just kids roaming the streets until it’s dark, which they more or less survived.
Stevie has good reason to want to flee his home. His mother has apparently curb-tailed her wildest instincts, but still unburdens her romantic woes on her tween son. Ian poses the more straight-forward threat, frequently beating up his little brother for little or no reason. But Stevie may be his own worst enemy, self-harming in alarming ways. It’s not until he begins to ingratiate himself with a skate group that he comes out of his shell. Ray is the undisputed leader of the group. He’s effortlessly cool, and everyone looks up to him. Fuckshit skateboards equally well, but seems more interested in partying and getting fucked up. Reuben and Fourth Grade fill obligatory minion roles within the group, and Stevie, henceforth known as Sunburn, is the newest, youngest, and greenest of the bunch. And he’s just so happy to be there.
Mid90s does a very good job making a time capsule out of 90s-era L.A. It gives us a gritty, accurate, insider look at skater culture, though it also feels quite sweet and quite intimate at times. We get a rare glimpse of masculine vulnerability, and the age-old attempt to swallow it up.
This is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, and he’s quite a confident director right out of the gates. He’s got a very laid-back, observational style that almost mimics skate movies that kids were putting together at the time, just footage of their buddies daring to do new tricks. Hill’s favourite trick, and perhaps his greatest asset, is the minimalism with which he shoots. I just wish the script didn’t follow the same route. The skateboard metaphor, along with the unsubtle tag line ‘Fall. Get back up.’ are pretty heavy-handed, but the rest is a little…not superficial exactly, but undercooked, in that we don’t really get underneath the feelings. Hill picks at some scabs but allows very little bloodshed. Mid90s feels a bit more like a character sketch than a whole movie, with subplots thin enough to necessitate questions of existence, but the parts that are on screen look cool and feel authentic, and it’s a promising new direction for Jonah Hill.