He stole the show next to Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and was the amusing and comical sidekick of Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street” and its sequel “22 Jump Street” but now Jonah Hill decided to take place in the director’s chair for the first time.
As the goofy and silly humour from Hill still shines through his “Mid90s”, the movie becomes an honest, funny, and light-hearted coming-of-age story with a strong indie art-house vibe.
With a title like “Mid90s”, it comes as no surprise that the film is taking place in the 1990s-era. That Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a thirteen-year-old boy living in Los Angeles, has a hard and tough life is quite an understatement. Suffering from the abuse of his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and with almost no friends, Stevie feels isolated and lonesome.
The only place where he feels home is the Motor Avenue skate shop down the road. Spending more and more time there instead of at home, he becomes part of the skateboarding gang.
His four new best friends with rather unusual names, Ray (Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Ruben (Gio Galicia) and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), welcome him with open arms. They see the love and passion for skateboarding and the newly founded lust for life in the young kid that they’re now considering one of their own.
While children from his age go to school, make homework and go to bed on time, Stevie’s life exists of skateboarding, smoking cigarettes, drugs, having his first sexual experience (what a funny scene that was) but also getting chased by the police multiple times.
However, the more he gets involved with his friends, the more trouble awaits at home upon the point his mom (Katherine Waterston) forbids him to continue with it. Which life will it be for Stevie? The one at home and at school and the safest one or the one he truly wants but the more dangerous one?
Apparently, before shooting this film, writer-director Hill went to distinguished filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Ethan Coen for advice. It paid off immensely well as Hill succeeds to bring that 90’s vibe to live exactly as it should be. The movie was shot in the “1.33:1” aspect ratio and on 16mm film and with that Hill honours the analogue TV culture during which no widescreen TV in sight.
Nowadays CGI is bombarding our big screens but CGI was just an upcoming element of filmmaking in the 1990s and because of that, Hill decided to create an even more authentic look by not using any special effects. Instead of watching a movie about five children, it feels like just watching their lives instead as they happen in real time.
To create that art-house feeling even more, Hill decided to work with an almost completely unknown cast. You might know the young leading actor Suljic from his role as Bob Murphy in the sinister “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” or as Tarby Corrigan in the entertaining “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” and it seems that this time his playful, funny and witty side takes the upper hand again. Used to be on a skateboard, Suljic is certainly the “cool kid” of the cast.
In a film about five misfits coming together, the chemistry between cast members should be excellent given the need to put that authentic friendship on screen.
Alongside Suljic we see Smith, Prenatt, Galicia and McLaughlin (“Ballers”, “Summer of 17”) of whom three of them make the debut with “Mid90s”. Who grew in the 90s knows the value of true friendship and what it’s like to be an outcast and those feelings are being brought back to life because of this wonderful fivesome.
For once we see the most renowned names such as Hedges (“Ben is Back“, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“), who’s harsh, tough and not afraid to get into a fight as Stevie’s older brother, and Waterston (“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, “The Current War”), who portrays the loving, caring but also angry mother in an incredibly talented way, in supporting roles. Roles that suit them very well.
In the 1990s, “new” artist like Green Day, Nirvana, Oasis but also NAS, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem rule the music scene. Music and finding your own identity that goes along with it was important then and is still important now. No wonder that music was a crucial part of creating the perfect vibe.
For the original score Hill decided to work with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won the Oscar for Best Original Score for “The Social Network” in 2010, and in an interview with Howard Stern, Hill mentioned that he was looking for a “sound of the elation and the confusion and the pain of childhood”. And did Reznor and Ross deliver that? Perfectly! Their soundtrack captures the joy, happiness and the feeling of belonging to a group as well as the sadness, the angriness and heartache of growing up. The original numbers were accompanied by well-known songs from Cypress Hill, Pixies and Seal. Back to the ’90s instantly!
Since its world-premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Mid90s” has been travelling around the world and at the beginning of the year, it got its UK premiere during the Glasgow Film Festival. Film festival programmers are clearly fond of this will and we share their opinion. Hill’s debut is an authentic, enjoyable and crafty independent film that transports us back to the ’90s in a heartbeat. Wheels up and straight to the cinema!