“Mid90s” Movie Review


     It would likely be a surprise to no one who learns Jonah Hill is the writer/director behind “Mid90s”, given the fact he arrived on the scene in a near equally as raunchy, yet smart, teen coming of age story with 2007’s “Superbad”.  And given his age during the time period, there’s also no doubt Hill has drawn from his own experiences as a confused and impressionable middle schooler to fuel the story “Mid90s” sets out tell.  The result can be unsettling at times, but this raw and authentic look at the life of a group of teens from broken and troubled homes can serve as both a cautionary tale, as well as a look back to the pre-internet age where kids had to actually find something to do, unlike the kids of today who spend hours looking at their smart phone.

     Stevie, played by the excellent Sunny Suljic, is a 13 year old kid trying to figure things out.  He lives in Los Angeles with his mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston), and his older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges) in what appears to be a lower middle class neighborhood loaded with kids who aren’t receiving the kind of supervision they likely need.  Stevie is at the age where he’s enamored with the people around him and looks with a keen eye as to how they conduct and carry themselves.  Being cool, after all, is the first and foremost goal of every kid trying to make his or her way through the various social circles that will either accept them, or viciously destroy their fragile self image. 

     For Stevie, this starts with his brother and the mandatory exploration of his room when he’s gone.  What better way to start to plot your goals and aspirations than to see how your older sibling conducts his business?  And regardless of the definitive order to stay out, Stevie has to discover the details of the example being set right in front of him, but without the uneasy feeling of that person looking directly over his shoulder.  Ian’s room is clean and organized, with each and every item meticulously displayed and curated to indicate exactly who he is and what’s important to him.  CDs line the shelves.  Posters are neatly affixed to the wall.  And his Air Jordan sneakers line the floor, clearly wiped off and cleaned after each and every time they are worn.  Stevie sees this, but doesn’t exactly fall in line with his big brother’s habits, which may be because of the routine beatings he suffers at his hands when it is determined he has done something wrong, or sometimes for no reason at all.

     Stevie is impressed by the skateboarding culture and has his sights on a small group of older kids he sees hanging out around a local skate shop as his current focus of idolization.  The group, which features a character known as Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) due to his typical refrain to nearly everything he sees and hears, appear to have the kind of skills Stevie wants desperately to acquire and so he kind of just starts hanging out with them, and they don’t really seem to mind.  Aside from Fuckshit, there’s Ray (Na-kel Smith), Ruben (Gio Galicia), and Fourth Grade (Ryan McLaughlin), all of which are in high school, but are more than willing to show Stevie the ropes, who quickly gains the reputation of someone who can take a fall, and immediately gets back up.  But we also have to remember, each of these kids come from troubled upbringings, and they themselves are in this position because of being left behind by their families who don’t seem to care where they go or what they are doing at any given time.  As you can imagine, the group isn’t exactly a great source of advice for young Stevie.

     Hill guides the proceedings through a series of mishaps that put the boys in the exact kinds of situations one would expect.  There are skating practices in which the daredevil nature of the sport puts Stevie in harrowing scenarios he isn’t read to overcome, but somehow survives and in the process becomes an instant favorite of the group.  This also leads to this young child showing up to high school aged parties featuring alcohol, smoking, and the early stages of what I guess you would call a sexual experience.  I suppose there is somewhat of an acceptance for these behaviors when the kids are 17-18 years old, but these sequences become rather unsettling when Stevie becomes involved.  All of which has you asking the inevitable question of what will become of these kids?  Do they have a future that doesn’t include poverty or prison?  Or are we simply observing growing pains and eventually everything will turn out ok?

     It doesn’t appear Hill set out to really answer these questions.  Instead, the first time director looks to show the audience a snapshot that is simply one summer in these kids lives, and a series of not very extraordinary things that happens to them.  There are plenty of scenes in which the characters pontificate about their lives and where they see them going, but in true misguided fashion, they are ill-equipped to understand even a small percentage of what they are talking about.  You get the idea each of them was probably taught this nonsense when they were once Stevie’s age, and now this is the result, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of any of these characters.

     Fuckshit thinks he’s just gonna meander his way through life with no real thought as to how he will get anywhere, just as long as there’s an ample supply of women, booze, and a skateboard.  Fourth Grade is the resident filmmaker of the group, capturing every move of his friend’s exploits via a small camcorder with the intention of someday making movies.  Ruben is said to be abused by his mother and rarely goes home and his confidence seems to be fueled by the constant overshadowing of Stevie with his lame advice on how to avoid being labeled as gay.  But perhaps the most mature of the group is Ray, who sums up the entire film with one line in which he sits Stevie down and ensures he understands the fact that everyone has problems and all you can do is deal with it and move on.  Today, kids shield themselves of this by providing their friends and acquaintances with highlight reel infused feeds within their social media accounts in order to shift focus from the truth.  In the “Mid90s”, as well as before then, there was no such thing.  You were just who you were.  GRADE: B+