The Cutest Little Skate Rat

Jonah Hill’s ‘Mid90s’ Is Gritty And Charming

Adorable. Just adorable. Jonah Hill’s debut as a writer-director captures the awkward tweener adventures of an 11-year-old Angeleno named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he rejects a single-mom homestead for the sun-beaten concrete world of skate rats. He bloodies himself doing stupid tricks, falls from a rooftop, smokes a ton of cigarettes, gets drunk, gets high, finger-bangs a teenage girl, screams at his mom, and ends up hospitalized. It’s harrowing, yes. But in the most adorable way ever.

Imagine Jim Henson teaming up with Larry Clark, and you get a sense of the odd mix of sentimental uplift and gutter-trash grit. Mid90s is a little 84-minute miracle, modest in its execution but so big-hearted and viscerally authentic that it’s often breathtaking. And in its late-20thcentury setting, there’s also a romantic taste of pre-smartphone liberation. When you’re out, you’re out—untraceable, but also unfettered.


MID 90S ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Jonah Hill
Written by: Jonah Hill
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Gio Galicia, Na-Kel Smith, Katherine Waterson

Running time: 84 min.


 

This funky dramedy, shaggy and wise in all the right places, seems as raw and unvarnished as most first films. But it also features deceptively polished and precise craftsmanship. It’s just the sort of contradiction you’d expect from Hill. He presents himself with such self-effacing comic ease that it’s easy to forget the star of Superbad and 21 Jump Street has also worked with directors like Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, Gus Van Sant, and Quentin Tarantino, and been nominated twice for the Academy Award.

Hill has described his hilarious view of adolescent anguish as “an animal kingdom movie,” where young cub Stevie struggles to earn a place in a pack of wayward locals, all while rejecting his hapless mother and indifferent older brother. He’s trying to be strong in a world of weakness, putting on a brave face to cover up the pure terror he feels inside. “I’ve never been in a car without someone’s mom and dad before,” he says while riding with his new posse, beaming with unadulterated glee but also hinting at a chronic anxiety of abandonment. He’s adrift. But that’s okay: it’s in the drifting that we find our direction.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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