Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a nostalgic love letter to a niche subculture, but its warmth makes it universal. Here’s why you shouldn’t miss it
1. It transports you to a moment in time
When the credits roll at the end of Mid90s, you’ll feel like you’ve just crash-landed back into 2019. The film immerses you in the world of 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic), whose desperation to be older and cooler draws him away from his troubled home life towards a group of charismatic skaters who spend their days partying, perfecting their craft and pondering the existential (“Why are white people so in love with their pets?”). Everything from the battered Airwalk trainers and knee-length Stussy T-shirts to the grainy, 4:3 shooting style makes you feel part of a particular Los Angeles subculture – regardless of whether you’ve ever set foot on a skateboard or not.
2. The soundtrack is amazing
Music plays a big part in the film, with one of the first scenes showing Stevie sneaking into his big brother’s room to note down the names on his rap CDs. For younger viewers, Mid90s is an education in the very best of Nineties rock and hip-hop. Tracks from the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Nirvana and A Tribe Called Quest breathe life into scenes of LA street life and skate park hangouts, communicating the vibe of the era perfectly.
3. It’ll make you see Jonah Hill in a whole new light
Most of us associate Jonah Hill with the slapstick comedy of his Judd Apatow-directed days (remember his ‘artistically inclined’ character in Superbad?), but it turns out his dream has always been to work behind the camera. Instead of shiny sets and predictable punchlines, though, Hill has filled his first film with genuine warmth and beautiful cinematography. And there isn’t a penis joke in sight.
4. It’s an intelligent exploration of masculinity
It’s not often we see an honest, unpolished depiction of male adolescence, and Hill doesn’t shy away from showing the worst of it. But the real focus is on the friendships. Interactions between the boys are hilarious and heart-warming, showing their vulnerability through over-the-top swearing and self-conscious side glances. It’s the closest you’ll get to understanding what it’s like to be a teenage boy.
5. You get a first look at some rising stars
Ok, so Suljic has already had a couple of film roles, but the rest of the cast are relatively unknown. Much of the film’s authenticity is down to cool-guys Ray and Fuckshit (so-called thanks to his love of four-letter words), played by real-life pro skaters Na-Kel Smith and Olan Prenatt. The hazy shots of them gliding down LA’s boulevards are impressive enough, but their natural rapport on screen is pure joy. Expect to see them again very soon.
Mid90s is in cinemas nationwide now
Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.