FILM REVIEW: "Mid90’s" Will be Remembered for Generations to Come
Jonah Hill has metamorphosed (but not like the Anamorphs. BAM! That’s a 90s reference). Hill has proven himself to be not only a fantastic comedic actor, but an Oscar-worthy dramatic one. And, as if he still needed to convince us that he’s more than his part in Adam Sandler’s Click, Hill has emerged from the chrysalis of his directorial debut, Mid90s, as a fantastic writer/director.
Mid90s feels real as its characters skate the sprawling streets of suburbia and twirl upon its bubble gum-stained roads. This is high praise for a period piece. The 90s aesthetic could’ve easily been another attempt at using nostalgia to pry cash out of movie-goers’ hands. But, while there are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles references aplenty, it’s clear that this is an honest rendering which mirrors writer/director Jonah Hill’s own experience of growing up in the 90s.
In the film, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) wobbles between his unstable home life and an inability to fit in until finding his feet with a crew of neighbourhood skaters. Skate culture has never quite been represented properly by Hollywood before and Hill might not seem the preferred candidate to have a go, but his humour actually aligns perfectly with that of the culture. And this is part of what ties the film (and its characters) together so well. Hill taps into the essence of companionship as he explores the teens’ trials and tribulations. He seems to have endless compassion and empathy for these characters who, rather than throwing their emotions about in monologues, are presented in a peaceful, almost quaint way. The stakes here are only as high as the ramps and it’s through their individual and shared identity as skaters that we learn where they’re riding to and what they’re riding from.
The cast consists of relative newcomers (most of whom have come up through actual skate comps, barring Lucas Hedges et al) all of whom perform to their greatest ability. The film could easily be cringe-worthy were the cast not so well-versed in the culture. Luckily, each actor plays to their strengths with the lead, Suljic, and emotional support Na-kel Smith grounding the crew with their relatable portrayals of these skater kids.
True to its roots, Mid90s is shot in 4x3 boxed aspect ratio, mirroring that of an old-school VHS camcorder. Likewise, Chris Blauvelt’s cinematography knows exactly where it’s at as suburbia glimmers through a murky yet somehow radiant colour palette which illustrates the grime and grunge of the skate scene,.
Despite recalling a period when skate videos where ruled by rap music, Mid90’s defies genre by featuring not only an addictive and gripping light-synth OST (composed by power duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross,) but also a fantastic soundtrack that ranges from the likes of The Pixies to Wu Tang Clan. There’s an absolutely jaw-dropping moment set to The Mamas & The Papas ‘Dedicated to The One I Love’. And, between other unlikely stunts, Mid90s even manages to make Morrisey sound sentimental with a downright beautiful scene echoing with ‘We’ll Let You Know’.
Despite relative newcomers working every angle of the production, Mid90s doesn’t feel like anyone is taking baby steps. In fact, the cast and crew come flying out of the gate. The film is raw and powerful, like a skate trick or the Macarena (Bam! That’s another 90s reference).
Mid90’s is a visceral, honest and beautiful directorial debut. When it rolls it rolls and when it leaps it lands. And, while the choreography, cinematography and soundtrack are perfect in their own regards, Hill pulls them together in a way that proves he has a future in the director’s chair.
5 Stars out of 5