Starring: Sunny Suljic, Na-kel Smith, Lucas Hedges (Ben is Back, Boy Erased), Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)
There’s a scene in Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, where the young and impressionable hero Stevie suffers a head injury and blood drips down his forehead. He’s with a group of older skaters, his mates, at an empty building in L.A. They don't call an ambulance (very few mobiles in this time), nor do they rush him to the hospital. Instead, the skaters wrap their T-shirts around his head and that’s that – and not without some hard respect for Stevie.
It’s in these deep and caring teenage friendships that Mid90s unfolds, revealing an absorbing teen drama that's recognisable, nostalgic and touching.
Sunny Suljic plays Stevie
At the start of the film, Stevie needs respite from his abusive home life. The opening shot of the film has Stevie being savagely beaten by his unstable older brother, Ian, played by Lucas Hedges in another memorably harsh performance. The only visible love is from their mother Dabney, sensitively played by Katherine Waterston, but she's not much of a role model, either.
Stevie finds what he needs in a group of adolescent skaters, who flaunt nicknames like ‘Fourth Grade’ and ‘Fuckshit’. Before long, Stevie’s skating with them, going to house parties, drinking, smoking – all strange to see a small 13-year-old boy do. With graphically hilarious Would You Rather? questions, boastful lies about having sex and a constant pressure not to be seen as 'gay', Hill captures the truth of that passage into teenagehood.
Stevie finds what he needs in a group of adolescent skaters
Hill’s clearly worked hard to splash that 90s nostalgia across the screen. He shoots in 16mm and maintains a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, capturing a square world before flat screens. It’s a world where CDs and Walkmans ruled and first-generation PlayStations were the height of video-game technology. The absence of the Internet and smartphones is also intensely felt, with Stevie often having to preoccupy himself with stuff in the outside world.
It’s baffling to see such vivid and youthful talent in the 13-year-old Sunny Suljic, playing Stevie. Hill has previously cited the Shane Meadows drama This is England as an influence, and it’s easy to see parallels between their central performances. There’s a fierceness to Suljic, a strong desire to be older than he is. It’s almost awkward watching him drink booze, do drugs and snog girls with such a smooth face and prepubescent smile.
Sudjic and Na-kel Smith's performances are raw and real, plain and unplanned
Stevie's skater mentors aren’t ideal, but they’re better than what he’s been dealt with. When Ray sits with Stevie for an emotional heart-to-heart towards the end, the performances from Suljic and Na-kel Smith are so raw and real, their reactions plain and unplanned like a documentary.
Mid90s is a mini-masterpiece that doesn’t look down on or up to its flawed characters – they simply are. The skaters’ incompetence and general sense of danger don’t matter, it’s merely showing a truthful entrance into teenagehood. This is a trembling debut from Jonah Hill, an actor who started in mostly tacky studio comedies. If Mid90s is the standard, hopefully more will come.
12 Apr 19 – 12 Apr 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|