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Mid 90s: Thoughtful, Sharp, Achingly Cool
April 12, 2019
For those of you who grew up in the nineties it’s quite possible you recall such wonderful gems as the MaccyD merchandise from the original Jurassic Park film. Remember the cups with prancing Gallimimus on? Or Lara Croft’s very questionable aesthetics and shoot-first, keep on shooting attitude in ‘vintage’ Tomb Raider, as well as my personal favourite, The Animals of Farthing Wood (I can’t even…). Despite the fact most of us can agree that being a kid and growing up is epically shit, we still find time to look wistfully back and wish for a slice of childhood again. Nostalgia is a good conversation piece with like-minded and like-aged companions, as well as a useful tool with which to complain with: “Those kids were born in 2017, why the hell are they wearing Spice Girls platform boots?!” Filmmakers especially are really milking the nostalgia thing and when done right, it’s proving to be kinda special.
Jonah Hill, part of such blockbusters as Pineapple Express, Superbad and The Wolf of Wall Streethas clearly been ready to burst with nostalgia for donkeys. Getting his chops on that director’s chair, his debut, Mid90sviews as a deeply personal love letter to pretty much everything he recalls from growing up. The content is largely specific to both Americans and hormone-mad boys, but the themes are fortunately universal. Watching Mid90s, one can’t help but be sucked into the passion that drips from every beautiful wide shot; the passion Hill has fed into presumably, a well-thought out debut. Just look at Ladybird, a film so emotionally attached to first-time director Greta Gerwig and you’ll see what I mean.
Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic whose most recent, prominent role saw him crawling along a hospital floor in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is thirteen, shy and frequently getting the crap kicked out of him by brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges). His days are spent in his sibling’s bedroom, noting down the ‘cool’ music to listen to and skating around LA. After meeting a crew of new friends at a skate shop, Stevie gradually comes out of his shell and explores alcohol, drugs, girls and falling through rooves.
The viewer is instantly transported to the nineties and whether you remember them or not, it doesn’t matter. You just know. There’s no pretending, no half-hearted set pieces, Hill and his team have taken all that passion; those memories and they transport you to the past. My god is it cool. Ninja Turtles? Check. Supersoakers? Check? Baggy Pants? YES. The soundtrack is, as you can imagine, also very cool with songs by Nirvana, Wu-Tang Clan and The Misfits. Sure there’s an undoubtable air of self-awareness in Mid90s that we’ve come to expect from ‘subtle’ indie flicks but it works and let’s not grasp at the bendy straws.
Stevie’s relationship with his new friends is the film’s biggest success. Most of them are much older than him but ultimately, they don’t patronise or see his youth as an obstacle and similarly, Hill doesn’t show youth generally as negative or young people as lacking. Instead and especially with Na-kel Smith’s Ray, the film shows the boys as thoughtful, empathetic and concerned for their futures. JUST LIKE US OLD FOGIES. They aren’t precocious; rather they just aren’t cardboard cut-outs or teenage stereotypes. After Stevie is told not to say thank you because people will think he’s gay, one pleasing scene sees Ray tell him they won’t, it’s just common manners. Seriously, people twice his age need to take note.
Mid90s isn’t without faults and perhaps some controversy, depending on your personal standing. Stevie’s first sexual encounter with a girl definitely much older leaves one feeling just a tad baffled at her attraction to a child and a clear, contrived inciting incident later in the film almost lets the entire experience down. Some characters too, like Hedges’ brother, Ian and Katherine Waterston’s mum, Dabney could do with more fleshing out, especially when the same has been done with most of Stevie’s new friends. Ultimately though, this is a sharp, achingly cool and thoughtful film from a passionate, nostalgia crazed team.
Mid 90s is out today.
Words by Samuel Sims @givemetokyo.
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