Fantastic Fest Review: Mid90s
Jonah Hill's surprising debut is best at its quietest
By Matthew Monagle,
9:10PM, Tue. Sep. 25, 2018
Given that Jonah Hill became famous as the star of mainstream Hollywood comedies like 21 Jump Street and Superbad, he may surprise some as the creative force behind Mid90s, an indie drama about a group of boys who navigate puberty from within California’s blossoming skate culture.
On the surface, Stevie (Sunny Suljic) has many problems typical of any teenage boy, but there’s a self-destructive streak to Stevie that goes far beyond the uncertainty of puberty. Stevie harms himself, punching his chest until it bruises when he is overcome with feelings of helplessness. It isn’t until Stevie falls in with a misfit group of local skaters that he finds an escape from the the frustrations of his family.
In the film’s opening minutes, Hill places artifacts from the decade in front of his camera as if displaying his period credentials for all to see. Stevie’s room still bears the trappings of his early ’90s upbringing; his room is adorned with video game posters and cartoon bedsheets. For a movie oft-hailed for its authenticity, everything in Hill’s feature seems determined to telegraph its intent.
We feel this most in absence of adults. Each of the locations the group frequents — from skate shops to house parties — belongs only to the members of this group, despite adults of every walk of life being a function of childhood. Stevie himself says it best: he’s never been in a car that wasn’t driven by someone’s parent, and a world where adults like Dabney (Katherine Waterston) are both overbearing and mostly absent lands strangely.
There are moments, though, where Hill’s film realizes its full potential. When Stevie and Ray (Na-Kel Smith) slip away to spend a night at the skate park, Hill’s understated eye as a director is given its moment to shine, capturing the uncertainty of both boys’ childhoods in how they quietly look to each other for emotional support. Then the story starts up again, and we’re left wondering what Mid90s might have been if it had only had the confidence to do more by saying less.
Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the oneofus.net podcast network, visit austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.