Director: Jonah Hill | Runtime: 1h 25mins | Drama
Set in 1990s Los Angeles, Stevie (Sunny Suljic) starts hanging out with a group of older kids. Spending their days skating and partying, easily influenced Stevie struggles to navigate between his new friends and already broken family relationships.
Jonah Hill over the years has morphed as an actor, from typecast overweight sidekick, to probably one of the most exciting actors working today, blending his already proven comedic style into critically acclaimed work from people like Martin Scorsese and Cary Fukunaga. While that’s Jonah Hill as a character, his nostalgia driven directional debut Mid90s sets out to give us a personal account of Jonah Hill the person, and it does so with ease. From the very start the film has a unique voice that seeps through beginning to end, opening on an overly violent sibling dispute quickly followed by a large dosage for audience of both 90s nostalgia, and childhood nostalgia.
While the film has it’s central characters, Hill makes it loud and clear that the real star of the show is it’s setting. In a similar vein to Woody Allen capturing the eclectic vibrance of New York in Manhattan (1979), or City of God (2002) using a violent favela to drive it’s plot, it’s the free spirited atmosphere of a Los Angeles summer that give the film such a unique style. Every scene is welcomed with an overwhelming sense of presence, and each character that Hill introduces feels like a product of it’s surroundings.
In many respects the setting and tone of this film may leave it’s audience disillusioned. Luckily though, Mid90s isn’t just a nostalgia-trip for people familiar with 1990s Los Angeles, Hill packs so much in it to really liven our memories with. More specifically, Sunny’s ever changing personality is reminiscent of anyone’s growing up, and even if you didn’t take such an alcohol-dependent route as a Sunny does, there is still more to fill the nostalgia void you’re missing. Whether it be Sunny’s drastic attempts to hide the smell of cigarette smoke, the first time he kisses a girl, or just generally hanging around with your friends talking about nothing and everything.
Despite the film being a nostalgia trip more than anything, Hill never forgets his characters. Each one oozes personality (‘F******t’ is a personal favourite), and brings with them their own problems and influences. Ray’s attempts to better himself, or F******t’s attempt to go against that philosophy make these characters interesting and give them depth, even Lucas Hedge’s backseat performance as Sunny’s brother is rich with subtle battles between expression and saving face. All of these characters give the film story, and anchor it towards it’s climactic ending.
Sometimes Hill struggles to balance the nostalgia and setting with it’s character’s stories, but as a directional debut it’s a fantastic film that coasts on the spirit of a city and the characters that live there. Even if you aren’t feeling as connected as others to this film, you can rejoice in a film that has a killer soundtrack and packs enough nostalgia, with enough variation, to get everyone reminiscing about something.