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Mid90s tells a clear-eyed yet nostalgic coming-of-age tale that might mark the start of an auspicious new career for debuting writer-director Jonah Hill.
All Critics (166)
| Top Critics (34)
| Fresh (129)
| Rotten (37)
If Superbad launched an entire subgenre that mocks male insecurity, Mid90s reveals, almost tenderly, the devastation of trying to hide it.
The drama is heartfelt but thin; despite some sharp and swift dialogue, the characters are bound to a defining trait or two, and there's little sense of style to lift the action past obvious intentions.
It's hard to tell if Hill is boldly refusing to adopt a point of view regarding dysfunction and its discontents, or if he just isn't quite sure what to make of it.
For most of the ride, Mid90s feels like an accurate time capsule - and a relatable journey even if you've never been on a skateboard in your life.
At just 84 minutes, "Mid90s" feels brief, like a sketch rather than a full painting. But Hill is finding his footing, landing one trick at a time, and he's off to a strong start.
It just observes, as young rebel movies have since the dawn of cinema, that life is something that happens while you're busy trying to skate around it.
Occasionally, it seems like Hill is trying a little too hard to be taken seriously. But even the movie's pitfalls open up possibilities for conversation, and Hill authentically captures the complexity, tribalism, and insecurity of teenage boys.
This funky dramedy, shaggy and wise in all the right places, seems as raw and unvarnished as most first films. But it also features deceptively polished and precise craftsmanship.
Unflinching with an absorbing aesthetic, Mid90s is proper coming-of-age; terrifying, fleeting and funny with pathos to spare.
The big question is whether this is all in service to the story or Hill's determination to announce himself as a credible artist. In truth, it's a little of both.
Tonally it can be a little helter-skelter but Hill has penned a witty, compassionate script and feels like a filmmaker willing to experiment.
"Relatable" is a word that I see bandied about as praise of various mediums. Well let me tell you, Mid90s was relatable, and it made me very uncomfortable. I like Slice of Life stuff, and I love Coming of Age movies, but I guess Mid90s was not what I needed today. That said, it set out to do a particular thing and it totally did it. And well, you gotta respect that.
This film is like a poor man's Wolf of Wall Street, both in that it is not as great of a film, but also is a smaller scale film about literally poorer characters. Jonah Hill does a good job keeping the feel of film very casual, and the characters, through all of their flaws, end up being likeable. The story feels like it just spins without cause until it comes to stop, but the ride is pretty fun nonetheless.
Jonah Hill's directing debut is a small slice of 90s cinema that's heavy on sense of time and place, light on plot, but filled with youthful authenticity. We follow a young kid (10? 12?) as he ingratiates himself with a group of older teen skaters. He wants to emulate these cool kids and dedicates himself to being a skateboarder. There are some intra-group conflicts and jealousies that play out as our protagonist becomes part of the gang. He gets exposed to smoking, drinking, and girls at house parties. There is one sequence at a party where a teen girl (15? 16?) takes our young hero into a bedroom to deflower him, and I instantly became anxious and needed to know the ages of the characters onscreen (it's never verified). Our main character also happens to be one of the more boring people in the film, almost by design. He's a blank page for the audience to project onto, and he's trying so hard at such a formative age to emulate the older teens that it makes sense to leave him less defined. Hill hired professional skateboarders and taught them acting, and they act like professional skateboarders. In fairness, they act like recognizable teenagers, and Hill's natural ear for dialogue rings true for this time of life. The movie takes a few turns into After School Special territory but doesn't seem to deal with the consequences or resolutions of those dramatic events, which makes the film feel both more realistic and less fulfilling. Our hero takes a lot of injuries, some of them bleeding-head related, but nothing seems to come from them except the growing admiration of his peers. The home life storyline is worrisome and vague. Our protagonist has a physically abusive older brother (Lucas Hedges) who resents him and a single mother (Katherine Waterston) who seems irresponsible in not doing something about her youngest son being gone well into the morning hours. Even our protagonist seems to have penchant for self-harm, something that will presumably lead to problems down the line. In the meantime, mid90s is a pleasant and mostly entertaining, seemingly autobiographical experience. It gets by on enough for a watch.
Nate's Grade: B
It's fascinating to see certain actors and actresses try their hand at writing or directing, because you never truly know what to expect from their first outing. This has been a very surprising year in that regard, seeing John Krasinski's masterful work on A Quiet Place and Bradley Cooper's upcoming rendition of A Star is Born. That being said, I truly don't believe an actor/actresses will be able to top Jonah Hill's film Mid90s for quite some time, in terms of going from acting to directing. When a film can come out of nowhere and be hilarious, shocking, heartfelt, and realistic, all at once, then it's an immediate winner in my eyes. Coupled with the numerous things that this movie has going for it on and off the screen, this is the movie of the year in my opinion. Although the year still has quite a few films to go, I have a hard time believing something will impress me more than this film has.
Not having the greatest Mother, being bullied by his older brother, and just wanting to fit in, Mid90s focusses on young Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he strives to stay as far away from his home life as possible. Wishing to fit in with cooler kids than the people he has grown up with, he meets a group of older kids at a skate shop. They grow to enjoy his presence and an unlikely friendship sparks between him and this group, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Although he has a blast hanging out with them and cracking jokes, this film explores the harsh realities of being responsible and what drugs and alcohol can really do to someone, especially when you're young. The evolution of most of the characters throughout this film is really something to see, and at a mere 84 minutes, this film is pleasantly well fleshed out.
Going into this film, I expected certain things out of Jonah Hill's direction and I was not disappointed. Yes, those who have experienced his roles in movies knows that he can be the most hilarious person in a room, but also deliver dramatic performances that have now given him Oscar nominations, so I went into this movie hoping for him to have placed both of those extremes on-screen. Mid90s is one of the funniest movies I've seen all year, and while the first half of the movie is simply there to amuse audiences, there are many set-ups being made for a darker second half. The evolution of this film is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. The way Hill directs these performers is truly something else, but that's also due to the fact that this is a very well-cast film in general.
Sunny Suljic is a real force to be reckoned with. Having this much talent at such a young age is a very rare thing, but he resonated with me completely. The way the friendship between Stevie and Ray forms is absolutely brilliant. Na-kel Smith brings a lot more to the table than what I expected after his first few scenes, but that was clearly intentional. His character is the most mature of the group that Stevie hangs out with, which works in favour of giving life lessons throughout the course of the movie. When looking back on this movie as a whole, from the comedic first act, to the character development throughout the second act, and even to the dramatic moments throughout the third, I found myself in awe that this was directed by a first time director.
In the end, I truly hope Mid90s receives the attention that it deserves this year. I can see this movie getting a lot of love from critics and tons of buzz when awards season kicks into high gear. From the very raw and real screenplay to the incredible score by the great Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, to the overall messages throughout this film, Mid90s is as entertaining and funny as it is dramatic and eye-opening. I loved every second of this film and I can't recommend it enough. This is easily my favourite film of 2018 and one of the most memorable theatre experiences in quite some time. Saying that about an independent film that only lasts for 84 minutes may seem crazy, but I couldn't be more honest about that statement. See this film.
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