By Adam Ray Palmer
Writing this makes me feel old, but Jonah Hill is at the Berlin Film Festival this year with his own film, Mid90s.
I remember over a decade ago, when he was the tender age of 21, the film that broke him and the film that made me howl… Superbad. Now writer and director, Hill brings us a coming-of-age drama for his first feature behind the camera.
Mid90s follows a 13-year-old boy, Stevie (Sunny Suljic) who begins to hang out with an older group of skateboarders while living in 1990s Los Angeles. The group consist of: Ray (Na-kel Smith), the leader of the pack with dreams of being a pro, Ruben (Gio Galicia), a young addition to the group who envies Stevie’s relationship with the older members, Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), the stupid one of the boarders who wants to be the next Spielberg, and finally… Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), who gets that nickname because he says the expletives after anything that’s “cool’.
We also see the other side to Stevie’s life – his dysfunctional family. He has no father in his life, his older, friendless brother Ian (the formidable Lucas Hedges) is abusive towards him and then his over-protective mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston), who is rarely in the film due to her work taking priority. That work being dubious, as Ian states in the film that he sometimes “hears fuck sounds” from her bedroom.
Stevie finds his escapism in the form of the skateboarders, where they affectionately call him ‘Sunburn’ after not knowing whether black people can get sunburnt or not. He quickly finds his feet in the boarding gang, but things also go awry just as swiftly. Stevie smokes, drinks and gets mixed up in his first sexual encounter, and a scrap. Newcomer, and the impressive, Na-kel Smith’s Ray gives Sunburn some words of advice to help keep him on the straight and narrow. He tells Stevie things are not always as they seem with people. The individuals in the skating crew also have their problems, and Stevie slowly has his “coming-of-age moment” before an action-packed finale.
For a first-timer, Jonah Hill has a great eye for the camera. His instinct in creating the 90s vibe is pristine. Firstly, he shot the movie on 16mm framing with a cropped 1.33 aspect ratio for cinema screens. It feels retro and authentic. Then, when you drop an awesome soundtrack over the top, it really polishes it off. Of course, Jonah grew up during that decade but to pull of this genuine-feeling landscape – it’s no mean feat.
Whilst there’s a focus on the 90s feel, the film doesn’t just relate to that time period. In fact, it’s as timely as ever, and even before the 90s. It’s a coming-of-age film that many could relate too. At 13, it’s a pivotal age that could define your next decade, or even a lifetime. It’s a time when you’re desperate to fit in, you’re impressionable and looking for somewhere to belong. Jonah captures this perfectly.
Hill’s first feature in the director’s chair is a sublime start. Mid90s is so easy to fall in love with. He has on his hands an amazing, young cast with whom have slick quips that really move the sharp and witty script along into a succinct 85 minutes. Jonah cuts the fat, grills the meat and serves a great first dish. I look forward to whatever next leaves his pen.
Cineroom’s rating: 4 stars
Mid90s will be released on 12th April 2019 in the UK – certificate 12A.