Movie review: ‘Mid90s’

Brad Keefe
Photo courtesy of A24

There's a lot of buzz around Jonah Hill's writing-directing debut, “Mid90s.” And as a child of the mid-'90s, I frankly expected more.

There's no lack of nostalgia here. The soundtrack. The clothing. It's all coming back to me now.

But, ultimately, it's a movie that has too much story to fall into a loose, slice-of-life recreation (think Richard Linklater's “Slacker”), as well as one that veers oddly into cautionary tale (think Larry Clark's “Kids”).

“Mid90s” also shows the influences of those movies, as well as some Kevin Smith “Clerks” banter, but I kept coming back to the same thought, like any good, angsty '90s teen.

What's the point?

Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a 13-year-old living in the Los Angeles area. We first see him getting beaten up by his older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges). It feels like the typical sibling bullying, except the sound of the blows lands like a Scorsese movie.

Stevie and Ian live with their single mother (Katherine Waterston), and they're definitely growing up poor. Stevie's a good kid, but he's also trying to fit in.

He's discovered the group he wants to fit in with in an older crew that hangs out around a skate shop. Stevie barters with Ian for an old board and starts hanging out in skate sessions, giving off his best “me, too!” vibe.

He eventually finds a home with the older skaters — the sort of ragtag bunch that accurately reflects a skate crew. And soon he starts dabbling in the kind of behavior that makes moms worry.

I had some skepticism of “Mid90s” going in. The bar for coming-of-age stories in 2018 has been set by “Eighth Grade,” and this one was going more for period authenticity than heart.

Also, I just need to note that I'm basically referring to a movie set in the '90s as a period piece, and, god, I feel old now.

After seeing it, I'm still not sure what Hill was going for here. “Mid90s” is punctuated by humor, but also has drama that borders on after-school special. The two don't mix well.

It could have been a story about how growing up is tough but kids are resilient. Or one about the dangers of going down the wrong path. It's not really either.

Hill also employs mostly unknown actors (I have no idea what Hedges and Waterston are doing here). Some directors can pull that off, but as a first-timer? Sometimes things feel really amateurish.

He also shoots in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which can work when it doesn't feel like a stunt (see “American Honey”). Here, it feels like a stunt.

The thing that most made me feel like a teenager again was the feeling I had at the end: Who cares?

Opens Friday

2 stars out of 5