Mid90s is the directorial debut by Actor/Writer Jonah Hill. Starring Katherine Waterston, Sunny Suljic, and Na-kel Smith, the story follows the challenges that 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) faces between troubled home life and his new skater friends, and of course the film takes place in the ‘90s in Los Angeles.
Going way back:The main topic that people talk about when it comes to this movie is its nostalgia factor. We are living in the golden age of nostalgia right now. We have the ‘60s (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), the ‘70s (soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy), and the ‘80s (Stranger Things and Kung Fury) covered, but when it comes to the ‘90s, it is still emerging as a point of nostalgia. At least in terms of feature films, Mid90s is the only movie to bank on that longing for this decade. The film does a great job of building this specific atmosphere by employing a lot of the slang of the time without using any cultural references that would go over people’s heads. This film is like a period piece, putting together a collage of fashion, music, and vernacular of a time long gone. The movie is shot on 16mm film, so most of the colors are muted and naturalistic. This color palette contributes greatly to the amateur/homemade aesthetic.
Many have criticized the film for lacking in story and only relying solely on nostalgia to get people into the theater, but I must disagree. While the story is understated, it confronts many universal challenges that face the youth, like growing up with a single parent or no parent at all, navigating the impossible social obligations from other kids, and dealing with the “loving” abuse from an older sibling. These struggles still resonate among the youth today. The film feels like an honest and tender portrait of growing up, and it deals with themes of sexuality, friendship, and finding your place in the world. The plot is quite bare, but plot isn’t what the movie is about. The film is more of a mood or hang out movie. Like Dazed and Confused or Slacker, the appeal to the film lies in capturing an atmosphere. Just as Dazed and Confused puts us in the graduating class of 1976, Mid90s brings us way back rolling on a board bumping Souls of Mischief.
Sticking to the roots:The actors that make up Stevie’s friend group all consist of actual skaters. This lends authenticity to many of the scenes. In many interviews, Jonah Hill emphasizes that he wanted to pay reverence to this sub-culture that, as he believes, has always been misrepresented in movies. The film also features an homage to the classic skate videos like Mouse (1996) and The Chocolate Tour (1999), even employing the use of a fisheye lens for extra authenticity.
With nothing but respect and reverence for a sub-culture in a small slice of time, Mid90s becomes an atmospheric movie that brings you way back.