Directed By Jonah Hill
Starring – Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
The Plot – The movie follows a teenager named Stevie (Suljic) growing up in Los Angeles. He’s struggling with his family, including his co-dependent single mom (Waterston) and his abusive older brother (Hedges), and at school, where his richer friends seem to overlook him. When Stevie befriends a crew of skateboarders, he learns some tough lessons about class, race, and privilege.
Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images – all involving minors
– Jonah Hill’s impeccable sense of sight and sound within this designated time frame. Being a youth during such a progressive period in our history, grants Hill as the ideal candidate for such an expressive project, and the Oscar nominated actor’s first swing as a director connects hard with audiences who, like Jonah, bare witness to the expressive trends in fashion and music alike. Because of such “Mid90s” is very much enriched in a nostalgic gloss that intentionally feels dated for all of the right reasons.
– Style with substance. The decision to craft this film in 16 MM with a 4:3 ratio is one that moves the creativity of the film miles in terms of duplicating that authentic 90’s home video dazzle of filmmaking, giving it at times a documentary feel of realism that the entire picture is cloaked in. Imagination is big with me, and there’s nothing out currently that looks or even feels like Jonah’s subversive spin on skate culture, that goes hand-in-hand with this particular story and set of characters. Obviously we can’t return to the 90’s to film a movie, so cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt is more than happy to oblige bringing the 90’s to us.
– Another slam dunk score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. I had no idea that these two Oscar winning composers were scoring “Mid90s”, and it only takes minutes for the film’s tones to channel those of the duo’s cold, callous repertoire that we’ve come to expect. The piano triggers loudest during Stevie’s deafening levels of isolation, and if anyone can articulate the angst associated with teenage perplexity, it’s the man who fronts Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, their cues don’t come often enough, as too much of the film’s accompanying music relies more on the soundtrack, which presented problems that I will get to later.
– What’s so effective and relatable about this film is that it transcends the group tag to give us feelings and situations that hit on everyone’s awkward adolescence. For me, it’s Stevie’s deteriorating relationship with his family, as well as the timidness and conformity that goes with wanting to fit in. This is perhaps the single greatest strength that Hill as a screenwriter instills, because his sequence of events feel every bit as natural as they do compromising to our main protagonist. In trying to be cool, we see how uncool it all really is, and its wisdom that comes with living through such experiences, that make you want to reach out and speak to Stevie personally.
– Breakthrough performances from a relatively unknown ensemble cast. This decision alone feeds into what we’re watching feeling like real life, giving the film a rich side of candidness that many films can’t hit on because of familiar faces. Even more impressive, the kids themselves are actual skateboarders. Suljic roars in his first starring role with a combination of innocence and ferocity that equally mold this outline of a teenager, who by the end of the film still feels in search of an identity that’s his. I felt great empathy for this character because every action comes at the desire to please someone else, a move that will inevitably move him no closer to self-happiness. The rest of the cast meets their marks equally as effective, even if the decision to cast Waterston and Hedges stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the fresh-faced ensemble.
– Underrated editing that strikes a nerve psychologically. This aspect is great purely for its minimalist approach. There are times during the film when you blink and you could miss aspect of clever filmmaking, making you wonder if what you saw actually happened in real time. Without spoiling much, conversations between two characters clip on and off, jumbling up the continuity from shot-to-shot, and unnerving us in a way that we can’t explain or justify. This is especially the case during the beginning of a major sequence towards the end of the film that gave me a great jump scare for how visually and audibly arresting it comes across. It all serves as manipulation of the product that kept my attention firmly during these brief tweaks of creativity.
– Unapologetic dialogue that is anything but politically correct. This too feeds into the particular place and time that this film takes place in, depicting a world that feels far from our own in terms of offensive reactions that follow such R-rated banter. There is such a naturalism to it all that accompanies these exchanges that other films feel far too prepared to capture authentically, and while some of it is indeed racy, it’s refreshing to view a world where the youth feel tougher than adults, in that they don’t let throwaway words cloud their judgment of people.
– Minimal plot that lessens the dramatic pull. While I don’t have a problem with a film that has little to no story, its presence on this screenplay is one that hinders the impactful third act, reaching for weight on its characters and subplots that never feels fully rendered. Specifically, it’s in the lack of character exposition that feels forced during a brief five minute conversation that feels most obvious, and the forgettable, incomplete ending is a reminder of such inconsistencies that Hill could better steer as rider of this board.
– I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack, while offering a wide variety of genre favorites for the decade, felt forced for all of the wrong reasons. What I mean by this is there’s no context or syntax to their disposals, feeling very much unnatural and spoon-fed for the recognizability of the tracks that will inevitably warm a soft spot in the guts of audience members. A film about a particular decade certainly requires the use of some songs to represent its era, but the sloppiness associated with their deposits made for some truly distracting scenes that illustrated the intruding line of production that sometimes overshot the synthetics of the 90’s feel.
– Loose ends that come and go without resolution. There’s a Hispanic character in the group who has a conflict with Stevie early on that eventually comes to blows between them. My problem with this is the many things set up with this character that goes absolutely nowhere in comparison to the final direction. There’s also a confrontation between the two most influential characters in this skateboarding group that seriously is never mentioned again after its introduction happens with only twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s a little late at that point to be introducing new subplots to the story, and the lack of conclusion between their conflict feels like something more was left on the cutting room floor, that wasn’t important enough to reach the finished product.
My grade: 7/10 or B