Offering a heartfelt and assured exploration of 90s youth subculture. Jonah Hill’s new film Mid90s offers an unvarnished view of the coming of age process. Reflecting the pre-digital age of a changing 90s youth culture, with a documentary-like precision. While wrapping the audience a claustrophobic 4:3 format; only adding to a sense of time and place in the reflection of 90s America. Meanwhile, the films energetic soundtrack and handheld style echoes the work of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park mixed with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Dazed and Confused. In turn, creating a realistic and engaging reflection of early adolescence that captivates the audience from the first scene to the last.
During a long hot summer in 90s Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) finds belonging and acceptance among a group of older skaters. Escaping the trappings of his abusive yet conflicted older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). And his tender yet struggling single mum Dabney (Katherine Waterson). As Stevie’s bond to the group increases, he finds himself taken on a journey of self-discovery. While also learning the pitfalls of friendship and the realities of his family turmoil. Challenging the boundaries of his social and family structures.
Mid90s excels in its natural performances, using a largely unknown cast to create realism in the turmoil of adolescence. With Sunny Suljic giving an outstanding debut performance as Stevie. While portraying the joy, discovery and anger of his teenage character with ease. Not only reflecting back to the audience the deep emotional bonds of early peer acceptance and the naive excitement and all-encompassing passion of youth.
While the interface between the peer group and family is beautifully constructed. Ultimately demonstrating the loss of family influence inherent in teenage life, as Stevie grows in his social confidence. Confidence built on risk-taking behaviours that embolden his sense of burgeoning masculinity.
Meanwhile, the exploration of Stevie’s relationship with his controlling and domestically aggressive older brother (Hedges) changes in construct. As the realities of power and control shift on Stevie growing in confidence. Stevie not only developing an understanding of the family dynamics at play but also finding his inner power. While his brother battles his own control lack of control, as his younger sibling slowly slips through his fingers.
Mid90s isn’t afraid to show the positives and negatives associated with peer influence. Including the risks of troubled older young people acting as influencers to the young. However, equally, it shows the importance of peer bonding in developing emotional support structures for teenagers. The films use of casual homophobia and racism within the peer group, reflecting the period setting. And while some may justifiably struggle with this in a modern context. The language demonstrates the challenges of developing masculinity in 1990s western cultures. With young men torn between the changing expectations in the role of men. Alongside the developing understanding of the powers, toxic masculinity had in defining both culture and sexuality.
However, there are minor weaknesses in the structure of the film, particularly in its final scenes. With an ending that feels rushed and void of the tension that proceeded it. While there is also an absent exploration of a changed sibling dynamics at play. However, despite these minor structural issues, this is a film that reflects the coming of age journey with sincerity and energy. Ultimately providing a beautiful exploration of early adolescence. While encapsulating the fear, joy and naivety of early adult experiences with an unvarnished brush.
Director: Jonah Hill