Jonah Hill makes a disarmingly mature directorial debut with this stripped down coming-of-age film. Mid90s follows 13 year old Stevie over the course of a particularly formative summer, where he takes up skateboarding, falls in with some older skaters, starts drinking, smoking, and fooling around with girls all as part of an exploration of his new teenaged identity and independence.
While the heavy handed title implies otherwise, Mid90s mostly avoids unnecessary pop culture references, obvious needle drops and other forms of nostalgia porn. All you’d have to is replace the kids’ camcorder with an iPhone and it could be present day, or with an 8mm camera and it could be the mid 70s. Stevie’s journey would basically remain the same, some things never change.
The kids spend most their days skating and laughing at one another’s expense but they’re all at the skatepark to escape something. Without spoiling anything I’ll say that the the final minutes take a weird swerve into After School Special territory, but the course is corrected by the time the credits roll.
While one may assume the subject would inspire a casual, handheld style, Hill instead composes a surprisingly formal frame. He opted to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, presumably to evoke a time before everything was widescreen, and even epic films were mostly cropped for home viewing. There are a couple scenes where cast and filmmakers’ inexperience peaks through, when they feel the need to tell rather than show, but not enough to seriously hurt the film.
With its energetic, fresh-faced cast of mostly unknowns, lean runtime, and occasional bits of humour that we’d expect from Hill, Mid90s breezes by like a short summer.