Written and directed by Jonah Hill, mid90s is a visual ode to the era to which the film owes its title. Grounded in the LA skate scene, mid90s follows the story of Stevie, a young boy on the cusp of his teen years, as he finds companionship in a group of older boys at a skate shop.
In a memorable opening sequence, Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic (The Killing of A Sacred Dear) is introduced to the camera being chased and beaten by his older brother Ian, played by Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird) in the confines of their humble LA home.
Aside from Suljic, Hedges, and Katherine Waterson (Fantastic Beasts, Logan Lucky) who plays their mother, there are very few trained actors represented in the film. The team of boys who Stevie falls in line with are made up of up-and-coming men in the skate scene.
Olan Prenatt plays a character whose expletive-ridden nickname rhymes with ShuckFit. His character is a budding hedonist looking for the next way to get off or get high. Contrary to ‘ShuckFit’s lack of ambition, his character’s best friend is Ray, played by Na-Kel Smith, who’s the better skater with dreams of going pro. Then there’s Fourth Grade (played by Ryder McClaughlin), whose dreams of becoming a filmmaker keep him glued to a handheld camera for the length of the film. His nickname is representative of his supposed fourth grade level intelligence. Lastly is Ruben, played by Gio Galica, the closest in age to Stevie, who butts heads with our protagonist as he realizes Stevie rising in ranks quicker than he could say ShuckFit.
The performances in the film are all honest and endearing, no matter how ridiculous their character’s premise. Of the cast of skateheads, Na-Kel Smith is boasting the most potential for real acting-chops. In a sincere and heartwarming monologue nearing the end of the film, his character Ray gives the film its shining moment.
Not alone in his eye-catching ability, Sunny Suljic’s performance is striking in subtlety and sincerity. No matter the life you live, it’s hard not to see a bit of yourself in Stevie as he seeks acceptance and direction. Hedges also delivers a wrought-out performance as Stevie’s brooding and violent brother. Hill writes his character in such a way that makes it difficult not to have some level of sympathy for the menace as the two sort out their complicated relationship with their mother.
Altogether, this coming-of-age tale is a funny and heartfelt portrait of the 90s. Told through skating, music, and fashion, Hill’s appreciation for the decade he grew up in is clear. Hill also makes sure to explore the complex and controversial culture of masculinity that existed without enshrining it or damning it. He allows it to exist on screen in its ugliness and its touching camaraderie.
Where the movie falters is it’s after-school-special ending. It appears that Hill backed himself into a corner with the overwhelming amount of heavy, emotional material, thus settling on an easy cop out. Ending aside, mid90s is a valiant debut for Hill and for many of its leads. It’s an enjoyable, picturesque layered telling of our most formidable years that many should and will come to love.