This review was originally published as part of our Berlinale festival coverage on 11/02/2019.
Paraphernalia preoccupies the hearts of the kids of Mid90s, who shed blood and break bones over logo-emblazoned trainers, T-shirts and CDs. With the possession of things comes status, acceptance and respect.
This pervades first-time director Jonah Hill’s impression of a specific period of time in his own youth; his melancholic depiction of a hazy, shapeless summer in LA makes tangible the superficiality and aching pathos of American boyhood.
Falling in with a group of skate-obsessed slackers, 13 year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a lost boy craving confirmation from others and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to acquire it. Whether abusing his body with household items to fake injuries, or recklessly failing at jumps and tricks beyond his capabilities, the damage Stevie inflicts on himself lands with the same tactile, resounding thunk of the blows from his older brother Ian’s (Lucas Hedges) beatdowns.
In return, he is rewarded with easygoing camaraderie as the film’s best scenes find the boys riffing on sparkling one-liners and absurd conversational tangents. Desperate to prove themselves tough, moments of vulnerability leak through in the tiny gestures of friendship between the insults and scuffles. Blissful joy is found in the nooks.
A fulsome and authentic depiction of burgeoning masculinity, Mid90s’ preoccupation with things as status symbols extends to the young women in the boys’ social circles left unnamed and objectified in a handful of ill-judged scenes whose bad taste Hill awkwardly sweeps aside with further jocular posturing and puerile zingers.
With a youthful dismissal of lasting consequence, Mid90s fails to truly challenge the dangerous and toxic worldview of its central cast. However, Hill excels at capturing the specific moments that define early manhood and the temperamental nuance of the bonds forged between angry young men.
CAST: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
DIRECTOR: Jonah Hill
WRITER: Jonah Hill
SYNOPSIS: Stevie, a 13 year-old in 1990s Los Angeles, spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.