Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
Director: Jonah Hill
Running Time: 85 mins
Mid90s is an American film about a 13 year old boy who begins his adolescence upon meeting a group of friends at a skate shop, all the while navigating the difficulties at home and the realities of growing up.
The really striking thing about Mid90s is that, for all its nostalgia and intimate, autobiographical coming-of-age drama, it’s actually a rather heavy watch. While it doesn’t quite have the emotional punch that it’s going for all the way through, the film offers up a sobering look at growing up, featuring a strong balance between the portrayal of childhood innocence and the beginnings of interacting with the big, wide world.
Let’s start on that point, because Mid90s more impactful drama is what really sets it apart from so many other coming-of-age dramas. While other films in the genre look at the struggles of peer pressure and how a child can cave so easily to that, Mid90s in part works the opposite way, watching a young boy push out of his comfort zone and, with a bit of peer pressure along the way, change himself into an entirely new person.
In that, however, the film demonstrates how easy it is for children to be influenced and potentially even hurt by those able to take their enthusiasm for growing up as an opportunity.
The film shows Sunny Suljic playing a 13 year-old boy who encounters a group of young drifters at a skate shop, and despite his shyness at first, he becomes fully ingratiated into the group, spending his days at local skating arenas or hanging out in the shop itself. Surrounded by others of roughly his age, it’s not as if he makes friends with a group of criminals, but the nature of their influence on him is far from the best.
From there, the film takes on an interesting and unique coming-of-age structure as it simultaneously portrays the boy’s growth in confidence, coming out of his shell and finding where he truly belongs in the world, all the while falling further from his family into a more dangerous world that threatens to have a major impact on him even at such a young age.
It’s a fascinating structure that works really well, and particularly at the film’s most emotionally strained moments – principally those between the boy and his mother (Katherine Waterston) – you do feel a very strong emotional cry coming from writer-director Jonah Hill.
And that’s another interesting point about Mid90s – the directorial debut of Jonah Hill – the sense of nostalgia and almost autobiographical nature of the drama is clear throughout. As a result, much like Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, the personal connection of the director to the story means it’s eternally more detailed and passionately produced than anyone else can make it.
That’s not just talking about having the right bits of nostalgia on screen whenever it seems fit, but more so about capturing the complex emotional ideas that a young 13 year-old boy would be having at the time, with Hill giving an incredibly clear portrait of growing up that recognises both its dangers and its unparalleled benefits.
It’s an interesting film that’s clearly made with passion throughout, but I will say that, with the exception of those most heightened moments of emotion, there are times that Mid90s doesn’t quite hit home as hard as it’s aiming to. It’s not meant to be a devastating drama by any means, but that sobering atmosphere and impressively self-conscious screenplay could have done with a lot more in the way of darker, bolder drama.
Whether or not that fits in with Hill’s memories and perceptions of growing up in the 1990s is another matter, but as far as making the film as powerful and as engrossing as possible, I felt that Mid90s was just missing a little bit more of a punch.
Overall, though, I was rather impressed by Mid90s. A strikingly sobering and intelligent coming-of-age drama, the film looks at both the positives and negatives of growing up in passionate and fascinating detail, and although it doesn’t always hit home quite as hard as it perhaps should, it’s still an emotionally riveting watch throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5.