The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2019 Review - MID90S | The Movie Waffler

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Dublin International Film Festival 2019 Review - MID90S

mid90s film review
A young boy befriends a group of skateboarders.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jonah Hill

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Alexa Demie

mid90s film poster





With Mid90s, Jonah Hill is the latest actor to make his directorial debut with a nostalgic '90s set drama that plays more like a love letter to the independent cinema of that era than a representation of Hill's own adolescence.

Sunny Suljic (whom you might recall as Colin Farrell's son in The Killing of a Sacred Deer) plays 13-year-old Stevie, an isolated kid who takes regular beatings from his steroid addicted older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) while his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) is out working or on dates with a procession of would be replacements for Stevie's father.

mid90s film review


One day while walking the streets of Los Angeles, Stevie spots a group of teenage skateboarders strutting their stuff outside the skate shop they (improbably) run. Stevie enters the shop and befriends the gang, comprised of aspiring skate-pro Ray (Na-Kel Smith), shy amateur filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), permanently angry Ruben (Gio Galicia) and permanently wasted Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt). Soon he's learning to skate, necking 40s and feeling up older girls at parties, much to the disapproval of his Mom.




As a teenager, Hill worked in a Los Angeles skate shop himself, so there's clearly an autobiographical aspect to his directorial debut, yet I can't help but note how suspiciously similar his film is to Shane Meadows' This is England. Both films are set in a past decade; both films revolve around a pubescent, male protagonist in search of a father figure who falls in with a gang of older youths obsessed with a particular subculture; both films see their young protagonist have an awkward first sexual encounter with an older girl; and both films feature a single mother who initially disapproves of her son's new friends only to later accept them. It's only the political aspect of Meadows' film that Hill hasn't transferred over from the overcast English Midlands to sunny California.

mid90s film review


Hill's film lacks the depth and verisimilitude of Meadows', and you get the impression it's something of a fantasy on Hill's part as he imagines the adolescence he might have had. What is genuine about Mid90s however is its charm and sweetness. You can't help but grow fond of Suljic's Stevie as his initial shyness gives way to a loveable goofy smile once he begins to feel accepted by his new peers, thanks largely to Ray becoming the big brother his own sibling refuses to be.




On the surface, Ray and his mates seem like the type of young morons you would cross the street to avoid, and Hill doesn't shy away from the insecure, homophobic language they apply in their ribbing of one another. The more time you spend with them however, the more you sympathise with them, though I didn't need Hill to include a lazily written scene where Ray gives us the backstories of each of his friends and their specific troubles.

mid90s film review


Hill's writing and direction is a mixed bag. Stevie's brother and mother are introduced as important supporting characters, only to fade into the background as though Hill lost interest in them. There's something cruel about how Ian, who is clearly mentally troubled and arguably the most interesting character in the film, is discarded by the narrative, and I didn't buy into Dabney's acceptance of Stevie's friends, particularly given a certain climactic incident.

While his writing is crude, Hill fares better as a director. Visually, the film could easily pass for a product of its eponymous era, and along with cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, Hill creates some striking images, the most memorable of which is an extended shot of Stevie and co skating down the middle of a busy road, an echo of Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby's Being There. Mid90s doesn't entirely hold together, but while some of its narrative beats feel forced, it has a raw charm that's undeniable.

Mid90s is in UK/ROI cinemas April 12th.


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