Jonah Hill's 'Mid90s' Is Sketchy But Still Lands Directed by Jonah Hill
Starring Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith
Published Oct 25, 2018Was Kids actually a good movie? At the time, the Gen X edgelords loved it, and apparently their younger siblings felt the same way, as the Larry Clark breakthrough has experienced a massive moment in the contemporary zeitgeist. The film's transgressive themes were already dismantled with Crystal Moselle's life-affirming Skate Kitchen earlier this year, and now first-time director Jonah Hill has decided to try and land a skate movie of his own.
As if naming it Mid90s weren't enough, Hill has really put in the work to make sure you realize just when this movie takes place. Bedrooms are adorned with Ren & Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life gear, along with stacks of SNES games, classic rap CDs and the sort of streetwear that will have vintage-friendly hypebeasts drooling. Still wondering when this thing takes place? To hammer it home, Hill had his cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (Meek's Cutoff, The Bling Ring) shoot film in a square aspect ratio.
The whole aesthetic is undeniably satisfying, though it reveals a self-awareness within the film that begins to feel overwrought. Factor in an on-the-nose cameo, and Hill reveals a few too many aesthetic cards.
Plot-wise, Mid90s follows Stevie (The Killing of a Sacred Deer's Sunny Soljic), a latchkey preteen whose aggro brother (Lucas Hedges) and general lack of guidance sees him desperate for role models while his mother (Katherine Waterston) is at work. He eventually stumbles across a group of skate rats who run their own shop, and falls into a life that's far more debauched than his pre-pubescent mind is used to.
Hill has insisted that he refused to judge his characters, instead opting for maximum realism as Stevie blasts cigs, chugs 40s and sexually experiments with an older girl. These unflinching moments do give the film a brief Christiane F feel, albeit within the contemporary template of a hip A24 coming-of-age flick.
Most jarring, however, is the toxic masculinity on display — particularly the way in which the characters use ableist and homophobic slurs. Undeniably, this was how people spoke at the time, and Hill was right to let things naturally unfold rather than rewrite history. That said, the sordid setup doesn't result in much of a satisfying payoff. Aside from an all-too brief dialogue between Stevie and Ray (Supreme and Fucking Awesome skater Na-Kel Smith), Stevie never really finds the role model he was looking for.
Instead, the film concludes with an admittedly great lo-fi skate video. As a whole, then, Mid90s is a film about people who have their guards up that has its guards up too. It certainly lands, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to dig a little deeper.