I was very scared by the trailers for this movie. It caught my interest, but I was still scared. At first glance, I thought this was going to be a very pretentious, overly-artistic, student film-like movie. Add that to the strange personal life of director Jonah Hill, I was cautious going into mid90s. I am very lucky to say, though, that this film might be my favorite film of the year (as of right now). Towards the end of the year, I will post a Top 10 list of my favorite films of 2018, but as of right now, Mid90s has a safe lock to be on that list.
The story is very simple. It follows a young teenager, Stevie, an optimistic kid living in the streets of Southern California in the mid-90s. He meets some other down-on-their-luck teens, who use skateboarding as their creative outlet. Through these connections, Stevie grows as a person, and learns that, although his homelife might seem bad, there are others that have it much worse. I know it sounds insanely basic, but through brilliant writing and acting, Hill is able to turn a generic story into an enriching period piece about coming-of-age.
Director and Writer Jonah Hill has stated that he learned a lot while making this film. Obviously he learned about what it takes to write and direct feature films, but he’s also implied that he learned about himself too. This film is very autobiographical. It’s apparent that this film comes from a special place to the director.
Hill paints the 90s/Los Angeles setting in a very romantic way, but it doesn’t do it in an overbearing way. He acknowledges that there were amazing times, filled with good friends and skateboards, but the film also acknowledges that there is also bad. This seems depressing, but it actually gives the film much more depth and heart than it could have had. If you just had a movie wherein it’s a direct love letter to the 90s and is completely blind to everything else, it would not be a genuine reenactment of the time it’s depicting. Skateboarding is an idea here. It represents that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Almost all of the kids struggle with something at home. Whether it’s poverty, family, violence, neglect, etc., each kid struggles with some sort of inner battle. Skateboarding is the one thing that brings them all together. It is used to help them through their rough times. If they’re struggling with internal conflict, they just go outside and skate the pain out. It’s a tool to relieve the stresses and anxieties of the situations they’re dealing with.
The technical aspects of this movie are great as well. The use of a 4:3 aspect ratio is bold, but interesting. Let me explain. If you have seen the trailer for this film, you will notice that the movie doesn’t take up the entire screen, but merely a box in the center of the screen. The aspect ratio is how tall and wide the image is. Hill uses this type of filming to emulate camcorder home videos that were prevalent at the time. This fits the tone of the film perfectly, because it’s a small, personal story, and it’s smaller width focuses less on the background, but more on the foreground. The costumes are also great. They fit the time period and the socio-economic status of the characters perfectly.
Sunny Suljic, Stevie himself, gives a breath-taking performance. With Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade and Milly Shapiro in Hereditary, it seems like 2018 is the year of the child-actor. Suljic gives one of the most realistic and genuine performances I have ever seen. He is able to show both the young, sweet, and innocent side of Stevie as well as the troubled, bitter, and rebellious side. This type of dramatic acting is not found in most adult actors, let alone someone as inexperienced as he is. The dynamic between Hill and Suljic during the press tour for this movie was off the charts, and their friendship is very clear. This transfers into Suljic’s performance perfectly because you can see the bond that they had when creating the character of Stevie. They both worked incredibly hard to make this character as human as possible. The supporting cast is also spectacular. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but Gio Galicia, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, and Ryder McLaughlin all give fantastic performances, each bringing the right amount of humor and sadness to their characters. The standout, though, is Smith, who plays the character Ray. Ray is the most collective of the group who wants to use skateboarding as “his way out” of the sad life he’s living. He is very cautious about the things he does and always thinks of the consequences that may follow. Smith makes you instantly fall in love with him, due to his kind-hearted nature. What’s really insane about Smith is that he had never acted before this, so he had no prior training or experience, which makes him seem more realistic.
If you can, go see Mid90s. Even if you were not around in the 90s, the themes of this movie still resonate to today. The film is engaging from start to finish, and I never once felt bored. I don’t think I had a single problem with the movie. I loved every shot, scene, character, camera trick, everything. I cannot wait to see what Hill, as well as the actors, do next.