You probably have a picture in your mind’s eye about what the directorial debut of Jonah Hill might look like. An alumni of the Judd Apatow “Frat Pack”, Hill made his name in improv driven comedies such Knocked Up, Superbad, and Funny People. Those character driven comedies are probably the exact kind of film you would expect him to make. So you might be surprised that the closest cinematic touchstone for his fabulous debut film mid90s, is in fact Shane Meadows’ This is England.
This loosely plotted hang-out film sees 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) slowly begin to pull away from his family, as he finds new friends, brotherhood, and a sense of belonging with a bunch of older kids who work at a skateboarding store. Stevie’s home life is tough. His single mom (Katherine Waterston) is struggling, and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) who he worships, beats the shit out of him on a regular basis.
At the skateshop he makes friends with Ruben (Gio Galicia), who introduces him to the rest of the gang. There’s Ray (Na-Kel Smith), the oldest member of the crew who wants to be a pro skater, Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) who exclaims “fuck, shit” at the start of everything he says, and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) who is never without his camcorder. Stevie has no experience as a skateboarder, but they welcome him anyway, and are soon impressed at his willingness to attempt tricks, no matter how dangerous.
Much like Meadows’ film, mid90s accurately depicts that intoxicating sense of camaraderie that comes from finding your tribe, and feeling like you belong. Hill captures that superbly, and even though this is a coming of age movie, and we’ve seen countless versions of this story, it feels fresh and exciting. This is in no small part thanks to the tremendous natural performances from the cast, Suljic in particular is outstanding. And as for Lucas Hedges, he is absolutely brilliant yet again, in a much smaller role than we are used to seeing him in.
Stylishly shot on grainy 16mm, and framed in academy ratio, the film has a lo-fi aesthetic which could come off as a bit self-indulgent, but it feels wholly appropriate for the mid-90s LA skate scene. Hill’s choices for the soundtrack are fantastic also, mixing nostalgic 90s bangers with more eclectic cuts, which add to the overall evocation of time and place. This is a strong debut from Jonah Hill, and I personally can’t wait to see what he directs next.
The Blu-ray release is a bit light on special features, but I guess that’s not much of a surprise for such a low budget indie. It does however come with a feature length commentary from director Jonah Hill and director of photography Christopher Blauvelt, and one deleted scene.
Cast: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin, Katherine Waterston Director: Jonah Hill Writer: Jonah Hill Released By: Altitude Film Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 85 mins Release Date: 26th August 2019