The torment of youth can take you to some places a little earlier then you should…
This debut from writer/director Jonah Hill (I know we were surprised to) entitled Mid 90’s is a thoughtful, well crafted and intense look at the growing pains of growing up. While it suffers slightly from a recent cavalcade of similarly themed films that have come before it, it’s worthy entry into the canon and proof positive that this career actor just might have what it takes to direct.
Mid 90’s introduces us to Steve (Sunny Suljic) an aimless thirteen year old in Los Angeles who spends his summer navigating himself between his troubled home life with his bully of an older brother (Lucas Hedges) and single mother (Katherine Waterston) and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue Skate Shop.
Making a feature film (much less a debut) that is about nothing yet also about everything at the exact same time is not exactly a simple task, but Jonah Hill steps up to the challenge with a real sense of ease and self confidence he dives us back into life as a 13 year old kid.
The coming of age drama is certainly a problematic one at times but Hill deftly puts us into this universe and evoking the era that these characters are living in. Shooting in 4:3 and on 16mm was a nice touch as Hill takes meticulous care in making sure that the details ring true. It uses lots of static shots and close-ups to allow a sense of angst and emotional torment to come through and with his use of music (some by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and some classic 90’s hip-hop) we could easily be watching a documentary and plays in a much more verity style then something like Lady Bird did and is actually more akin to recent documentary Finding The Gap or Boyhood. Hill wants to get invested in these characters, not for any specific reason but because they are the archetypes of characters that we’ve all known, gone to parties with and hung with back in our younger days. It’s not often a film manages to get specific but still feel universal on an emotional level, that why this all works so damn well and hinges on its lead.
Young Sunny Suljic may only have a handful of credits to his name, but it’s pretty clear from this that he can hold his own. As Stevie we see the emotional conflict of a young man who wants to reach out to his older brother for guidance and advice but gets shut down yet also knows that he’s striving past just being the little kid who watches Blockbuster with Mom on Saturday nights. There’s genuine nuance in his performance and it’s a credit to both him and Hill to really get to the natural caldron of emotion that exists when you’re a kid that age. Lucas Hedges was intense and quite good as the bully older brother and Katherine Waterston was her usual dynamic self as the emotionally frazzled single mother.
Hill’s mix of seasoned and first time actors in the ensemble gave the entire compact experience a real sense of vitality that you can’t fake as you could just tell how truly invested that everyone was in the material.
While Mid 90’s doesn’t quite have the polish or the raw emotional resonance that other recent coming of age movies have had it shows genuine care in experience the moments that these characters live in and it marks Jonah Hill as a directorial force to be watched and maybe even reckoned with one day.