The sheer replay value of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on Playstation and the pop-punk punch of an anthemic Avril Lavigne track. It’s fair to imply my knowledge of the sport is that sparse, with cinema rather complimentary in only sporadically having it at the forefront of any narrative. Think Lords Of Dogtown or the more recent Skate Kitchen. Gradually breaking out of his comedic comfort zone. In making the switch to directing with Mid90s, it’s evident that Jonah Hill has been reinvigorated by the experience, as this coming-of-age tale crackles with ferocious energy right from the first frame.
Its raw realism tightly confined within the preferred 4:3 aspect ratio, serves as a poignant metaphor for the lost souls that inhabit it. Quickly acclimatising us through the rocking of a Street Fighter tee and turning the volume up for a healthy helping of Seal (Batman Forever fans rejoice!), we predominantly see this vibrant era of Los Angeles through the eyes of floppy-haired misfit Stevie (Sunny Suljic).
Emotionally pummelled by his malicious brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and somewhat disconnected in his relationship with his mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston), Stevie struggles to assert himself in any fashion that would be considered confident. His ‘safe space’ is found through Motor Avenue and its rambunctious regulars Ruben (Gio Galicia), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), Ray (Na-Kel Smith) and Fuckshit (Olen Prenatt), who deem their skateboarding antics a worthwhile escape from the mundane. As friendships form and tensions flare simultaneously, it soon becomes apparent that Stevie isn’t the only one being buried by their problems…
For a first feature, Jonah Hill is thrillingly assured in establishing a nifty balance between stylish and sketchy. Mesmeric middle-of-the-road mid-shots with its daredevil youngsters sailing past, mirroring their own life trajectories. The biting banter that in a time of political correctness may occasionally leave you squirming, with its commentary on race and sexuality yet is endearing and unflinching in its grounded nature. But it’s the maturity and pathos in exploring the fragile masculinity, coupled with the startling poverty on display, that punches through the screen.
That’s not to say though that Hill doesn’t fall foul of flaws previously associated with his films in front of the camera. Whilst the execution of its frat-pack style comedy is sound, one sexually charged detour is awfully contrived within its otherwise authentic framework, which is thankfully brief enough not to completely tarnish the efforts elsewhere.
The rebellious spirit of its distinctive ensemble is infectious, who are certainly capable of unearthing beauty in the harshest of scenarios, as they collectively navigate through a troubled adolescence. Tinged with tragedy. Na-Kel Smith’s Ray is arguably the wise-worded standout from the pack, with one searing sequence of him elaborating on the tough lives led by the group, proving deeply profound.
Burdened with taking many of the emotional and physical blows as Stevie, the heart-warming resilience and exuberance of its leading man Sunny Suljic is a joy to witness. With such great emphasis on the younger contingent. The conflict with on-screen brother/mother Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston may feel a tad underdeveloped despite an impactful start, but it’s testament to their talents that they’re still able to punctuate the film with powerful moments.
The ending may be deemed somewhat abrupt. But there is no denying the blissful sense of longing and place about Jonah Hill’s directorial debut. Set to a blistering soundtrack that is bound to evoke nostalgia. Mid90s is less Superbad, more Superdope.
Directed by: Jonah Hill
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia
Release Date: 12th April 2019