A film about being 13-years-old in the 1990s while living in L.A. well away from the lights of Hollywood.


Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin


Jonah Hill is a man of surprises. His success in comic roles, many of which took advantage of outspoken racy material, hardly led us to expect how adept he would be in serious roles, but he raised his game in such works as Moneyball (2011) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Now even more unexpectedly he emerges as the writer and director of Mid90s. The title refers to the era in which the film is set and it's a work centred on youths running loose in the streets of Los Angeles. Some of their dialogue will raise laughs among those who relish the outrageous and this is a film replete with strong language. Consequently, some will assume that Mid90s is not a world away from comedies in which Hill has appeared. However, contrary to initial impressions, this is a serious piece and it has at its heart a 13-year-old boy, Stevie, a role totally inhabited by that striking young actor Sunny Suljic who justifiably has top billing.


With real insight, Hill's screenplay portrays the situation of a youngster desperate to belong, to be accepted as part of their world by older street kids who are viewed by his mother (Katherine Waterston) as totally unsuitable companions for her Stevie. Indeed these youths will provide opportunities for the boy to take drugs, drink and engage in sexual exploration, so her fears are not unjustified. What does surprise her is her belated discovery that one of this group, all of whom are keen on skateboarding, is actually known to all as Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt). But that Steve should want to be accepted by them is entirely convincing - and all the more so because at home he is bullied by his older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges). It should be said here that Hedges, who usually takes leading parts, has in this case a subsidiary role. However, it is to his credit that he turns in a convincing portrayal while fitting perfectly into the ensemble nature of the piece. What is less satisfactory is the minimal information about the mother who, for all the concern she expresses, seems oblivious to the injuries that Stevie receives at home from his abusive brother.


Since skateboarding is seen as a way for these youngsters to escape from empty lives, some audiences will compare Mid90s with the recent documentary Minding the Gap which is similar in this respect. But the authentic feel of the street scenes prompts thoughts of Sean Baker's Tangerine (2015) and, as the story develops, the closest parallel is with that film's 2017 successor The Florida Project. Here, however, adult figures have a more limited role and audience responses to Mid90s will be influenced by their ability to identify with these youngsters. The fact that Sunny Suljic is so stunning in the lead role obviously helps but, if Hill as director just occasionally goes for fancy touches and ends on a misguided note, as writer he contributes greatly by capturing in depth the attitudes of these adolescents. Indeed, the film is at its very best in a sympathetic scene in which Ray (Na-Kel Smith), a black youth, consoles Stevie as he talks to him of hardships and recognises Stevie's potential as a survivor. It is a further virtue of Mid90s that never for a moment does it succumb to sentimentality in showing us the lives of these kids whose prospects are clearly so uncertain.




Cast: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin, Alexa Demie, Katherine Waterston, Harmony Korine.


Dir Jonah Hill, Pro Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Ken Kao, Jonah Hill and Lila Yacoub, Screenplay Jonah Hill, Ph Christopher Blauvelt, Pro Des Jahmin Assa, Ed Nick Houy, Music Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Costumes Heidi Bivens.


A24/Waypoint Entertainment-Altitude Film Entertainment.
85 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 12 April 2019. Cert. 15.