Mid90s is a raw, intimate look at kids in L.A. during the 1990s.The protagonist is a sweet, good-hearted kid (Sunny Suljic) who doesn’t get along with his big brother (a scowling Lucas Hedges) and craves attention from his busy but well-meaning mother (Katherine Waterston). She doesn’t realize how alienated her 13-year-old feels right now.
Not surprisingly, he finds a surrogate family of skateboarders on the street. They’re all older than him and completely divorced from reality. They get drunk, get high, get into trouble, and have no ambition whatsoever. One of them harbored dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder, but his best friend, who shared that goal, abandoned it and is now a goofy drunk.
The boy tries to pretend he’s more worldly than he is, smoking for the first time, being with a girl. He accepts a good many dares, some of them quite foolish. They not only ingratiate him with the gang but provide him with a feeling of confidence and belonging that he desperately needs.
Suljic is remarkable; it’s a naturalistic performance that lends credibility to the film as a whole. The other cast members are nonprofessionals, which speaks to Jonah Hill’s ability to communicate as a director and earn their trust. They shine brightly, and almost all of them have decided to pursue careers in acting.
My daughter Jessie and I saw this together at Fantastic Fest in Austin. I didn’t respond to the touchstones of the 90s the way she did, recognizing the posters plastered on the wall, the toys, the music—but the human element spoke to me 100%. Mid90s reminds me a little of Peter Sollett’s Raising Victor Vargas (2002) and other films of that ilk. Though not everyone will be able to connect to the time and story on a personal level, it’s extremely well done and feels real. That’s the highest compliment I could pay to any first-time writer and director—even one as well-known as Jonah Hill.