Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Directed by: Jonah Hill (debut)
Written by: Jonah Hill (“21 Jump Street”)
Few actors can weave in and out of genres as seamlessly as Jonah Hill has done it within the last few years. Known mostly as a comedic actor that has grown from the Judd Apatow family tree, Hill has had massive success in serious roles, nabbing 2 Oscar nominations for dramatic turns. With Mid90’s, Hill adds another facet to his nuanced repertoire, stepping behind the camera for the first time in his directorial debut.
In 1996 Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) navigates a summer filled with new experiences, a questionable new group of friends, and a troubling home life.
Perhaps it’s the use of a lot of natural non-actors, but there’s a certain raw edge to the film that feels homemade and small. As a coming-of-age movie, Hill’s debut feels Linklater-esque, being more slice-of-life than narrative driven. Perhaps because of this, the film occasionally feels a little bit aimless and meandering.
What it does accomplish well is tackle and capture the feeling of angsty adolescence. Stevie is young, impressionable, and desperately seeking something new as a form of escapism. The films best moments are watching Stevie take good hearted innocence and mix it up with some very real and intense situations, along with various shenanigans.
Though his performance is good, Suljic’s casting falls victim to an issue sometimes seen in coming-of-age movie, which is that he looks really, really young. There’s a bit of dissonance watching a middle schooler do very adult things and though perhaps by design, is occasionally distracting and odd.
As a “hang out” film, Mid90’s scratches the nostalgia of its titular era, especially those who grew up in skateboarding culture. It would be nice to have a little more narrative heft, but it’s a solid if unspectacular debut for Hill as a filmmaker.