Director: Jonah Hill
Cinematographer: Christopher Blauvelt
Writer: Jonah Hill
Stars: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt
Mid90s isn’t some new found experience that gives us perspective. At its core, it’s a simple hangout film and instead of taking the themes and story seriously, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the experience of these lively characters. It’s 84 minutes of living through the day-to-day lives of this odd group of friends.
This film has no plot. It has no deeper thematic meanings or messages. It’s got a mix of good and bad character writing, and that drives the entire film. What I’m trying to say, is taking a heavy stance on this film seems backward considering this experience is a light, nostalgic return to the middle of the 1990’s. It’s a film that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously on that level. It’s shot through the eyes of Stevie (Sunny Suljic), or as his audacious friend group comes to know him as “sunburnt,” a little kid trying to make it with the older, rebel types in his community.
Let’s start with the good about mid90s and that’s the acting, writing, and execution of Stevie’s friend group. Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) is genuinely one of the funniest characters of 2018, and it never once felt as if he was acting. This is where the script excels when these characters are just doing mundane, everyday things. In those scenes, the script is elevated through the spot-on dialogue and true-to-life interactions that shows the innocence of willingness of a kid trying to fit in with older kids he looks up to. Jonah Hill nails it in that regard.
The narrative plays out as life plays out, and the slow revelation of these characters home life and how they take those problems into those scenes. This is exemplified through Ray (Na-Kel Smith) and Ruben (Gio Galicia) and how these two use their friendship as an escape from that. How their relationships develop with Stevie sends the film in all types of directions. It makes most aspects of the story unpredictable.
However, the character writing takes a sharp turn once the film shifts its focus back to Stevie’s home life. With how fleshed of Fuckshit and Ray are, Stevie’s brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) is terribly underwritten and instead of having genuine traits the film treats him as more of an outcast that serves as nothing more than a way to keep Stevie on edge. His arc playing alongside Stevie’s is extremely odd and instead of coming to more of an understanding about him, we end the film even more confused about him. Hill tried to inject humor into his character with the orange juice shenanigans, but that ended as a shallow attempt at humor.
And as for his mother (Katherine Waterston) and her six minutes of screen time, her character serves more like an idea for Stevie to eventually resent. Her presence is a point of contention and leads to that brilliant scene towards the end where she confronts his new friends. I related hard to this moment as the overbearing mother embarrasses you in front of the cool kids. Those authentic, real-life moments is what makes this an enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, mid90s has some really memorable moments and there’s one, in particular, I want to discuss. It’s not Stevie falling off the roof, but the party scene. A scene that provides one of the most confusing moments on screen in the last few years, and seemingly borders on a sort of pedophilia that gets ignored by the main characters. I understand its a high school level of understanding, but I can’t tell if that moment is heartfelt or downright disgusting. At this moment, you also hear Jonah Hill through the dialogue of Stevie, making some of these scenes completely farfetched.
It’s a film where the good aspects get counteracted by lesser aspects and what’s left is a fun, hangout movie. As someone who relates to this group of friends, the togetherness of these friends is what sticks with me, not the ideas from the screenplay.
It’s not a groundbreaking experience, but it is an experience that is different. It’s a coming-of-age story that is unique in its approach. This entire review is a long-form version of me telling you to not overanalyze it (730 words into my review lol), and just enjoy it for what it is. I had a great time spending time hanging out with these characters.