This 1990’s set coming-of-age film is made by first time director Jonah Hill. You can definitely sense his comedic style influencing the way the characters speak but as a debut role behind the camera, does Hill give us something Superbad or is it an example of a Megamind to keep watch of?
13 year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives at home with his bully big brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and mum Dabney (Katherine Waterston). After witnessing some older teenagers having fun skateboarding, Stevie decides to try his hand at the activity and in turn he makes friends with the crew, even if it does mean he starts skating down some dodgy roads.
The transition from indoor gamer Stevie to hanging out outside and christened ‘Sunburn’ is a swift yet glorious watch. He does the thing most youths did when they felt a phase was too babyish for them; he removes posters and adds up more grown up memorabilia and tries adult things in the hope of fitting in. What Jonah Hill does as writer/director is ensure the rite of passage is lovingly documented and the 90’s setting is pretty much the perfect, grungy backdrop to tell the story.
As if on its own wheels, this film shuttles by and with Nick Houy’s editing you really feel as if his life is injected with a dangerous spurt of energy. There is a party scene which opens with funky fresh cuts that snap along to the beat of the music and it isn’t just this which shows some sharp snips, the film has a few other, somewhat brutally effective edits enhanced by blasts of sound, which clatter in a shocking way.
‘Mid90s’ isn’t all fast paced masculinity though, there are a couple of touching moments portrayed in the bond between Sunburn and group leader and hopeful skater pro Ray. The way that Ray cares for and likes to see their new member get up and try again is great and they have a well written connection, especially in a silent and sunlit exchange where Ray fixes Stevie up with a new board.
It is a mostly solid bolt out of the gates from Hill, aside from one iffy scene at a house party that sees the li’l lead getting hit on by an older gal. Their age difference and following bases he ticks off are met with applause but it’s a tonally weird feeling scene, and if things were the other way around, with an older lad sexually advancing on a younger female then it’d be torn apart, but here it’s treated as a celebration and something a kid should go through to be deemed ‘cool’. Some may view it as harmless and a mildly amusing scene but it didn’t sit right with me.
Suljic is a fantastic actor with his youth shining through in the desired places and this childlike wonder adds flavour to his more grown up language and actions. He has this puppy dog loyalty that he acts wonderfully as he plays in a new gang. These sunnier parts are contrasted by some darker elements of his personal life which he attacks with no reserve.
Even if skateboarding was never your scene, Jonah Hill writes and directs a film with a neat focus on angst, awkwardness, puberty, brotherly fights and trying to fit in, without ever really messing any of those qualities up. ‘Mid90s’ is a coming-of-age movie rife with skater-boi law breaking and growing pains, which thoroughly reflect male childhood.