By: Christian Harding (Two Beers) –
If there’s one trend that’s all the rage in Hollywood these days – apart from superhero films, remakes, belated sequels to pop cultural landmarks from the 70’s and 80’s, the hideous looking blue-grey tint that’s rarely ever fitting for the films using it (looking as you Solo: A Star Wars Story and Christopher Robin) – it’s the actor-turned-director. And why not? Throughout their careers, most of these actors usually wind up working with a large number of directors who vary in regards to their subject matter and the styles of which they bring these stories to life. So it’s only natural that many lifelong actors might want to try their hand at making a project all their own. And while certainly not a new phenomenon, this trend seems to have grown rapidly in the last couple of years, which people like Greta Gerwig, Ben Affleck, and Ewan McGregor trying their hand, with varying degrees of success. That brings us up to speed with twice Oscar nominated actor Jonah Hill (try telling yourself that ten years ago) and his new debut feature, Mid90’s.
Our story takes place in the titular time frame of the Mid90’s and centers on a young boy named Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic from last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer), who lives with his loving but rarely present mother (Katherine Waterston) and his rage-fueled older brother (Lucas Hedges, another A24 alumni). Despite his less than ideal home life, Stevie soon finds a surrogate family within the local skating scene, and quickly becomes involved with their entire subculture and way of life, much to the chagrin of his home family. And if you think you know where this story is headed, then you’re probably right. But as is the case with many coming of age films from this decade, it’s not so much about the overarching plot and storyline, as the moment to moment experiences and day-to-day routines of these characters which we’re following along with on their respective journeys. And with that in mind, Mid90’s gets the job done. Our lead du jour Stevie is an appropriately wallflower-lite sort of character, who mostly fades into the background and allows the supporting players to take center stage whenever they require, each of which are given their own distinct traits and personalities as to make them better stand out as individuals, at least for a little while (but more on that later).
Also worth praising is the retro 90’s aesthetic being utilized herein, which not only stands out on its own, but helps to add to the overall tone of the piece. While on the story front, Mid90’s ins’t exactly anything new or groundbreaking, it’s in the details that it really stands out. It’s shot with an eye on the full frame, which helps evoke memories of the grainy look from certain older VHS cassette tapes. Moreover than the look and styles in and of themselves, the way they are all utilized feels appropriate and well-earned as well. It’s not all there just to manipulate the viewer’s nostalgia, but rather aids the more melancholic tone of the entire piece. And throughout every moment of this film, there’s a deeply felt affection and reverence for the particular location and lifestyles being depicted onscreen.
While I mentioned earlier that Stevie’s gang of skater friends start out feeling like their own individual characters, unfortunately this doesn’t last throughout the entirety of Mid90’s. Most of them are given memorable introductions and plenty of traits which allow them to stand apart from the others, but as the story continues to move forward and becomes more dependent on the interpersonal drama and group dynamic and less about evoking a series of relatably bittersweet moments, the more it chooses to focus on one or two specific group members, while leaving the others in the dust. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker within the larger scope of the film, but it only serves in making the broader skating community depicted in the film feel smaller and less expansive, which seems counter-intuitive with the goals set up at the start of the film.
Overall, Mid90’s is a very solid debut feature and an effective coming of age fable. And just at the point where the current trend of 1980’s nostalgia is really beginning to wear thin, I for one welcome the incoming wave of 90’s nostalgia we’re no doubt going to in overrun with sometime in the near future. At the very least, when Captain Marvel smashes into theaters this coming spring, Jonah Hill and A24 will be able to say that they got there first and therefore have bragging rights in regards to kick-starting what will no doubt be the next biggest thing in Hollywood.
Mid90s (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for each of these freshly minted A24 “tropes” you pick up on:
– Coming of age story.
– Full screen aesthetic.
– Child protagonist.
– Lucas Hedges.
– Actor-turned-director’s debut feature.
– Underage drinking & smoking.