By Mollie Campbell.
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is a coming-of-age film following 13 year old Stevie as he befriends an older group of skaters. Set in Los Angeles in the 90’s, the film portrays the experimental, exciting and nonchalant journey of youth but it also shows us a harsher and much more difficult sense of childhood that forces kids to find some sort of outlet, whether it be positive or negative, just as a form of escapism.
Stevie is the son of a single mother is often working, meaning that his older brother Ian is given complete freedom to beat him up as much as he likes. The scenes in which he physically abuses his little brother are very disturbing; I think Jonah Hill did an incredible job with the sheer rawness and honesty of these scenes. There is total silence apart from the loud sounds of a child being beaten up, it is hard not to feel affected when watching something like that. But it all serves its purpose. The film was perceived to be some kind of light-hearted stoner comedy, but it actually turns into a source of education, it is very informative and involves serious issues, not to be taken lightly.
Apart from the complexity of the issues within the film, there are also some very upbeat and funny moments, it kind of feels like a classic before you have even finished watching it. Think of a hybrid between Dazed and Confused and Freaks & Geeks, throw in shades of Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady bird’, and the result is Mid90s. The most important factor in all of these movies is the classic nostalgic time machine that instantly takes us back to a time we perceive as being simpler. Mid90s provided every ounce of nostalgic fulfilment that I was expecting and more, the brands, the locations, the music, the attitude. And if it wasn’t retro enough, it was shot in an old school style filter, so the whole time we are watching it feels as though we are just looking at our old home movies. There were definitely some moments in which the pace slows down a bit, but the whole point of the movie is merely a commentary on teen life, it shows how much things have changed in the past 20 years, and what things have stayed the same.
It is very funny and easy to watch but it also focuses heavily on the lives we are forced to fit into when we are children, if we are born into a certain life, we have no control or choice as to whether we live in it or not. This is something that many children are faced with, so the film really highlights the bad home lives of some children and how something as simple as skating can stop them from going insane. We see a kid whose family can barely afford to feed him, a boy whose little brother died, someone whose brother relentlessly beats him, and the general sense of loneliness and isolation you can feel within your teen years. The film shows us how children go through their teens, find themselves and how they grow into different versions of their childhood self, it also gives some explanations as to why some people behave in the way they do. It certainly doesn’t glorify or justify the behaviours in regard to certain people like Stevie’s brother, but it does give us an insight.
Overall, whilst it does have some clear faults, the intentions behind this film were good, and for a directorial debut, Jonah Hill has really pulled it out the bag. He mixes complexity with nonchalance, innocence with morality, and highlights the pain within the happiness. It sounds conflicting, but Hill managed to incorporate all of these emotions with ease and simplicity, resulting in a fun, fresh yet familiar tale.