Review: Jonah Hill Makes a Genuine and Raw Coming-of-Age in His Staggering Debut, “mid90s”

Victoria Stuewe ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor
Having a new voice in such a tired genre seems a difficult task. Jonah Hill makes it look easy. Without using gimmicks or disingenuous clichés, mid90s creates a raw, authentic portrait of life as an adolescent in Los Angeles. Though it can’t claim to be fully original, this coming of age film still sticks out among the rest.
Right from the start of mid90s, you get a sense that this is not like the others. With a 16 mm camera and the opening image of skateboards forming “A24,” the film immediately sends you back in time. Without needing to say a word, it sets a nostalgic tone that exudes adolescence.

Sunny Suljic and Na-kel Smith in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
The plot is fairly straightforward: a young boy named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is simply trying to find his place in the world. His abusive brother (Lucas Hedges) and absent mother (Katherine Waterston)  make him an outsider – that is, until he finds a group of skateboarders. Fascinated and intrigued, he immediately wants to join.
Though the film is slow at the beginning, the gradual progression of Stevie’s love for skateboarding is contagious. His first encounter with the sport was because he saw “the cool kids” doing it. Just like any other 12-year-old, he immediately delves into the world of skateboarding; he wants to join the club. The beauty of the film is that it’s so easy to see yourself in Stevie. His wonderment, his wish to join a group, his want to have friends – all of these things can describe any other young person wanting to be something more.
Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
As soon as you meet Stevie, it’s obvious that he’s a curious individual and, because of that, is willing to break the rules. It spirals as soon as he decides to steal money from his mother to get the skateboard he so desperately desired. He smokes, he drinks, he trespasses – doing it all to fit in.
It’s strange to think that a 12-year-old would be put through these situations. He seems too young to do anything resembling the kinds of things he does at such a young age. The moments where the film reminds you of his age are undeniably jolting. How can a child, not even a teenager, be compelled to do these things?
You could argue that it makes the film less realistic. But the enchanting, almost hypnotizing way Hill wrote the scenes appears so genuine that you don’t question Stevie’s motives. With the home-video-like camerawork and the seamlessly casual conversations between characters, mid90s acts as a snapshot of life. You can’t help but believe the actors improvised, despite being entirely scripted by Director Jonah Hill.
Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatt in Mid90s. Photo Credit: A24.
The chemistry between the cast members made the film go beyond mediocrity. Without it, the film could have easily been another Boyhood. But the relationships don’t feel forced. Much like any other childhood friendship, there’s jealousy, vulnerability, a feeling of brotherhood – emotions ooze out of the film. The still, long shot camerawork, the choreography of a scene, the staging of the shots, all of these elements make it increasingly immersive, making you sympathize with every character.
Unfortunately, its trite and somewhat formulaic narrative is undeniable. In that regard, Mid90s could be seen as a basic, predictable, not-so-original film. And yes, Hill could have pushed the boundaries a little more. It could have been a little more polished.
The performances and realism help mid90s defy those labels. For a debut film, Hill exceeded expectations by a tremendous degree. There were moments that can take your breath away with the amount of tension and thrill. True, it does have the comedy that one might expect out of a film by Jonah Hill, but it never felt out of place. They’re all just boys, trying to live their lives, despite not having the ideal upbringing.
Overall Grade: A-
Read Emertainment Monthly’s interview with the cast here!
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