Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a 13 year old growing up in the Los Angeles of the 90s. Troubled at home by his bullying older brother (Lucas Hedges), Stevie finds kinship in a group of kindred spirits he meets at a skate shop, and soon discovers a new interest in life.
A deceptively simple film that disguises a rich structure. At first glance Mid90s appears a typical mumblecore style film, sacrificing structure for naturalism, yet here first time director Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, Maniac) presents something that is meticulously crafted, while still being utterly evocative of its genre roots. From the first moments recognising the A24 logo shaped out of skateboards, you are jolted upright by the sickening impact of a body into a wall. It’s an attention grabbing move, and one that shows how much control he has as a director in this piece, as well as the themes that are going to be dealt with through the story. Yet Mid90s has an ability to ebb and flow, as you identify with each of the characters in turn.
It is a testament to this piece that it can craft empathy for every character in this strange collective. Similarly each is in their turn the person that is out of control, and abusive. It’s a sober view, but one that is universal, as Mid90s delves into the power structure of relationships, be they family or friends. Through the course of their life, everyone is the envious and the envied, the abuser and the abused. Through its short run time, this film attests this in a way few others can. It’s a cry for empathy, and understanding, and how that can forge family.
Mid90s is also a huge dose of nostalgia, capturing the period and the milieu with a stunning accuracy. It is an era of grunge and awkwardness, and it is brought lovingly to life with this coming of age story. Yet like the tale itself, there’s a lot more here than just the expected fare. Sure the soundtrack visits the music of Nirvana and Wu-Tang Clan, but Morrissey and Phillip Glass as well. As with every aspect of this film, Hill carefully gives us what we expect, and just a little bit more for good measure.
All this rests upon the shoulders of Sunny Suljic (The Killing of the Sacred Deer). He brings a vulnerability and nativity to the role, but also an immense sense of toughness and endurance. At times it is painful to watch, as Stevie blunders into situations due to inexperience, but he also brings a sense of fresh wonder to what he is experiencing.
A stunning debut piece that captures both the feel of the era, and of that time in life.