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Mid90s Review

Jonah Hill’s debut as a writer and director is not an instant classic, yet it heralds more to come from an actor from whom no one expected this much. Mid90s is not my ’90s, and it is highly unlikely that it was Hill’s, either. The burgeoning hedonism of young skater Stevie, aka Sunburn (Sunny Suljic, a strong young performer previously seen in The Killing of a Sacred Deer), feels aspirational, as opposed to authentic. Young Stevie soon claims core membership in a cohort of skateboarders, survives an accident that would have killed lesser mortals, gets action from an older girl when the other boys cannot and, maybe least believably, binge drinks without ever puking. 

The puking scene in a coming-of-age tale like Mid90s is so crucial that its absence says more than its presence would have. Stevie is a young god, and his actions, no matter how reckless, lack lasting consequences. He is the embodiment of the immortals most teens envision themselves to be. Like me, Hill probably saw Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s seminal ’90s youth-gone-wild tale, Kids, at a cinematically impressionable age. Yet, while Hill’s kids are certainly wild, he has crafted a far more empathetic portrayal of teenage boys, whose errors too often overshadow their successes. 

Aspiring pro skater Ray (Na-kel Smith) exemplifies the unguarded friendliness of teenagers. But friendly or not, the repetition of the casual homophobia that dominated the ’90s teen lexicon makes Mid90s more off-putting than realistic. Unevenly funny and never fully intuitive, Mid90s may understand being a teenager too well.