Jonah Hill pens and directs his magnum opus, Mid90s, a film that's about as niche as they come and that unabashedly mines its target demo's feelings and nostalgia to middling results.
It's the mid-'90s, and 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is hitting that terrible age where one is willing to die to look cool; where one begins making questionable decisions, hates their mother and develops friendships for the first time not out of schoolyard proximity, but tangible emotions, even if they're spurred by hormones. Despite obvious adulation for his abusive hip-hop-obsessed older brother, Stevie starts forming his own personality within the world of skateboard burnouts, sage-like older kids, drug and alcohol experimentation and one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes in the history of movies.
And though Mid90s can be commended for attempting to capture the feel of a subculture from a very specific era, and very nearly succeeds, for every moment of sincerity, there are about dozen more that border on the manipulative—like the opening shot that scans over a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bedspread to the Super Nintendo controller, or Stevie's wardrobe of Ren & Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead tees.
Suljic is not half bad as a pretty good kid grappling with his own coming-of-age, and Hill's casting of relative unknowns in the roles of his pals recalls Larry Clark's then-controversial 1995 film in the same vein, Kids. Hill probably liked that movie very much and isn't afraid to wear its influence on his sleeve, but we'd have preferred a bit more character study over any number of drawn-out montages or reductive glances at what we assume was mental illness, poverty, peer pressure, alcoholism and good old-fashioned teen years sucking. Fantastic Beasts' Katherine Waterston, however, is so fleeting and inconsequential as Stevie's mother that we wonder why Hill even bothered, outside of a weak attempt at establishing a moral compass. Stevie's brother (Lucas Hedges) feels pointless as well, but Na-kel Smith as Ray, the voice of reason, will surely draw well-deserved attention for an onscreen ease we rarely see from an actor so young.
But in the end, the closest thing to a message or moral we can extract is that kids are going to do stupid shit and cave to pressures often, though we don't actually see the consequences of these actions in any meaningful way save a too-quick wrap-up that feels like pretty much nothing. Good soundtrack, though.
+Suljic is a strong newcomer; the soundtrack
-Feels a little hollow; preys on a certain age's feelings of misspent youth
Directed by Hill
With Suljic, Waterston, Smith and Hedges
Regal,Violet Crown, R, 84 min.