Jonah Hill is an actor who has worked with some of the best directors in the game today, such as Scorsese, Tarantino, Miller, Van Sant, and the Coen Brothers. As an actor, working with these directors is probably a dream, especially if an actor has aspirations of becoming a director. It is essentially the best directing class you could ask for. So the idea of Hill directing a movie sounded intriguing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Hill retained much from these great directors. Mid90s feels like a film made by someone who just graduated film school, yet was not taught by The Coen Brothers or Scorsese. The film severely lacks depth all around, from the characters to the story, has no visual flash, and offers up one of the worst main characters of the year.
Mid90s follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a thirteen-year-old boy living in 90’s-era Los Angeles. With a troubled home life, which includes his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterson), who is constantly bringing home other men, and his constantly angry brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), Stevie looks for an outlet on this life and finds one when he ventures in to a skate shop and meets Ray (Na-Kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Ruben (Gio Galicia), and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), a group of skates who get into all sorts of shenanigans all over the neighborhood.
There is no other way to put this, but Stevie is a piece of shit. I’ve seen over 150 movies in 2018 and no main character has been this awful. He’s an awful, awful, character, one with no respect for anyone around him. He doesn’t care about anyone’s emotions or how anyone feels. He yells at his mom, steals from his mom, goes through his brothers stuff when he is told not to, and is bogus to his skating friends. There is no redeeming quality to this character and you never want to root for him to succeed in anything. Ian beats Stevie up in a couple of scenes during the movie and to be frank, I wish it happened more because he deserved it.
Stevie being our main character is the film’s biggest flaw. What makes it even worse is that the group of skaters, Ray, Fuckshit (they call him that because any time something cool happens he says, “fuck…shit…”), Ruben, and Fourth Grade, are all far more interesting. The four of them feel authentic, as if they’ve been friends for years, and their characters are all more interesting and have more going on than anything Stevie does. Ray is the best skater of the group and has aspirations of going pro. Ruben has a troubled home life, even worse than Stevie’s, and uses the skating and this life so that he never has to go home. Fourth Grade might be dumb (which is why they call him Fourth Grade, because he’s as smart as a fourth grader) but wants to be a filmmaker, and Fuckshit is from a wealthier family who is just doing this for the ride. They are compelling characters and the characters I wish the movie focused on. We also don’t get nearly enough of Ian, who is also incredibly interesting, as his deep-seater anger is something I wish the film dove into.
The film’s biggest strength is the performances. Though Stevie is literally the worst, Suljic plays it well. Waterson does what she can in a thankless role. Hedges lights up the screen as Ian and is another reason why I wanted more of him. The skaters are all great, most of them having never acted before, but I particularly liked Smith’s performance as Ray. Watching Ray struggle with wanting to go pro with skating and also staying with his boy is easily the most interesting part of the film and Smith gives off a sincerity that is nowhere else in the film. It is one of my favorite supporting performances of the year.
Mid90s feels like an incomplete movie. Too many scenes are either cut too short or just randomly placed without any necessity to the plot or character development. It felt like Hill had only 70% of an idea instead of a full one. Nothing is developed properly and no character has any depth. But one thing Hill does, to a fault, is make sure we are aware that we are in the 90’s. With constant needle-drops and references to 90’s pop culture, this movie is a BuzzFeed article on screen. Sorry to anyone born after the year 1999, only 90’s kids will get these references.
After Bradley Cooper delivered one of best movies directed by an actor this year in A Star is Born, Hill comes up with one that could be one of the worst. There is no promise of a future filmmaker here. Though we get some good performances, they can’t make up for all of the film’s issues. Mid90s is a rough, pointless watch.
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