Directed by: Jonah Hill
Premise: Set in 1990s Los Angeles, a thirteen year old boy (Sunny Suljic) gets in with a crowd of skateboarders. He adjusts to their way of life, putting the boy at odds with his family.
What Works: Mid90s is a coming of age story and it’s worthy of comparison to films like Breaking Away and Dazed and Confused. Like a lot of these kinds of stories, Mid90s is about a group of friends and the ways in which they relate to each other. In this case, a suburban teenager works his way into a clique of skateboarders. The film’s portrait of adolescence is raw and authentic. Mid90s is led by Sunny Suljic as Stevie. Suljic impresses in how unselfconscious he is as an actor. Suljic is in the moment and allows Stevie to be a terrible kid but there is also an awkwardness and fragility underneath Suljic’s performance that makes Stevie empathetic. A similar quality is found in the rest of the skateboarding crew. The actors and the filmmakers have a feel for the way in which these characters relate to one another and the authenticity is in the details. Especially notable are Olan Prenatt and Na-kel Smith who are cast as the senior members of the group. Prenatt and Smith’s characters are old friends who have grown apart and the film captures something elusive but real about the way relationships change especially in the teenage years. Mid90s has an authentic feel. Part of that is in the performances but it is also in the naturalistic filmmaking style. Numerous sequences feel documentary-like and there are parallels to be made between Mid90s and independent movies of its era, namely Kids and Clerks. One of the ways in which Mid90s positions itself in its decade is through the musical selections. The film features songs of the 1990s but the filmmakers opt for deeper cuts rather than the obvious songs associated with the era. That adds to the movie’s authenticity.
What Doesn’t: Despite its naturalistic style, Mid90s generally adheres to a familiar troubled teenager plot. Stevie begins experimenting with drugs and alcohol and his substance abuse gradually gets worse. The film has an admirably dispassionate view of all this. It doesn’t glamorize Stevie and his friends nor does the film wag its finger at the audience. But the trajectory of the story is not that different from a special “say no to drugs” episode of a 1990s family sitcom. Mid90s is less about the story and more about the authenticity of the moment. But that authenticity is undermined by a story that is a bit canned. The weakest element of Mid90s is the ending. The movie brings its characters to a crisis point but the story doesn’t see it through. The film ends without resolving anything.
Bottom Line: Mid90s has terrific performances and a vivid sense of place. But what is most impressive is the movie’s authenticity and the way it reconstructs a particular place and time.
Episode: #724 (November 4, 2018)