Review: MID90s

By Josh Muchly

An enticing balance of humor and the dramatic

Upshot: Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a thirteen-year-old in 1990s-era Los Angeles navigating adolescence and his troubled home life, spends a summer with a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

Rundown: This is a labor of love by Jonah Hill. Nothing was missed; everything was thought-out. He crafts an enticing balance of humor and the dramatic, with moments of both harrowing emotion and hilarious charm.

Lucas Hedges is in compete alignment with the tone, never overpowering  young Suljic. Likewise, their mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) is played suitably.

I loved the music by Atticus Ross and Trent Rezner, who have never disappointed since I first noticed their work scoring in David Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010).

The cinematography too is important. It was shot entirely on 16mm film. Its graininess is part of the aesthetic. Its messy, like the characters; like the skate-parks where they hang out. This film wouldn’t work as well with modern 4K digital. The 16mm matches the time period, which matches the story. They all reinforce each other.

There’s also a film-within-the-film element that had a unexpected, but welcomed payoff. One of Stevie’s new friends is “recording all the time” with his camera, and at film’s end we see part of what what he was creating. Fun stuff!

Highpoint: Suljic. Even though he’s just a kid, it doesn’t mean his job was easy. Stevie is no easy character to play. In dealing with his context, he’s dealing with a lot of shit: betrayal, sexuality, drugs, racial identity, danger, group dynamics, hierarchies …. He navigates quite a lot in a short period of time (a few months, maybe?) and we explore this with him in just 80 minutes. That’s a credit to Jonah Hill for excellent pacing. From the first scene, after Stevie takes a beating from his older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges), he quickly creeps into Ian’s room (a grave sin of adolescence!) and rifles through his stuff– clothing, sports jerseys, magazines — a lesson in the expressions of masculinity in the 90s. What appears to be a quest for revenge reveals itself to be something else: Stevie is figuring out what to buy his brother as a birthday present.

Lowpoint: the “feud.” A tension builds successfully from the first one-on-one Stevie has with one of the other boys, which peaks in a physical brawl. Then, nothing. No dramatic expulsion from the group, no mea culpa. Arguably, the film is not significantly hurt by this oversight, and it could be said that “life works that way sometimes,” but I wold have enjoyed MID90s more if some sort of reconciliation or fallout from this were included.

Rating: 5 of 7

Follow: @muchlymedia on Twitter (or email josh.muchly@gmail.com)

 

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