Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s,” is a coming of age story about 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) discovering skating and the friends that come with that scene. While the film might be pretty, the story is unoriginal and the characters’ ideas are incredibly ugly.
“Mid90s” really banks on the aesthetic and nostalgia of the 1990s to separate itself from other coming-of-age stories. It is predictable when Stevie’s mom does not accept skating or his new friends. Stevie’s mom coming around to the idea of skating and his friends after a breaking point is even more predictable.
The movie starts off with promise with the eye-catching 4:3 aspect ratio, something that has made the film stand out since the trailer was released. There is a charm to the film with the bright colors of 90s cartoon characters contrasted with the neutrals of the grunge scene. Costuming really brings the time period together as well as the original score by Trent Reznor.
The beauty of the film is lessened by the grimy characters’ gross jokes and ideas that are authentic to that of heterosexual teenage boys. It is difficult to forget that this film is written and directed by the straight, white Jonah Hill when slurs to describe black and gay people are used throughout the movie. The abundant use of slurs compacted with the rape jokes may be authentic to the age group and time period, but nothing is gained from this in terms of storytelling.
The characters in the movie are unlikeable, and it is hard to feel bad for anyone when mistakes are made. Stevie’s mother first says that his friends are bad influences after he falls off a roof, which makes sense. Well after Stevie almost dies in a drunk driving accident his mother for no reason decides that his friends are fine.
Ray, played by Na-kel Smith, is supposed to be the older and wiser friend, but he is incredibly weak and allows these young kids to drink and do drugs while he just shakes his head. There is a scene where Stevie is given amphetamines by his friend and Ray, whom Jonah Hill expects for the audience to find father-like, just shakes his head and lets everyone be.
Stevie, Ray, Ruben and the entire friend group of the movie do not make sense. Jonah Hill tries to tell the audience that this friend group is cool, but it is hard to imagine a world in which cool 20-somethings are hanging out with 13-year-olds. Also, it is difficult to develop any emotional attachment to these kids because hardly any information is given regarding the other kids except a few throwaway lines saying that their lives are hard.
There are quite a few scenes that are just plain hard to watch like the party scene where 13-year-old Stevie has his first sexual encounter with a girl who is at least 20. It seems like an inebriated 13-year-old having his first sexual encounter with an older girl at a party should be an issue. Too bad this is not an issue for Jonah Hill and the characters inside “Mid90s,” instead this is all passed off as being just another rebellious moment for Stevie.
While the movie was largely unenjoyable and predictable, the acting was all pretty solid. Lucas Hedges plays the role of Stevie’s older brother, Ian, and is believable as the angsty teenage brother. Ian could have been a likeable character had he not been punching his brother for half the movie.
“Mid90s” had a phenomenal cast and lovely visuals, things that can be expected from an A24 film. Ignoring those things, this coming-of-age story is nothing new and the time period its set in do not make up for the unlikeable characters. “Mid90s” is only a must-see if 90s nostalgia and skating is your thing.