Director and writer Jonah Hill very much likes to paint “Mid90’s” as a film that’s basically for the kids that grew up in the nineties. But despite some choice nineties tracks, “Mid90’s” is once again less for the whole of the nineties kids, and more for the suburban skater kids that spent most of their time riding around on boards, and hanging out in parking lots getting drunk. If you can accept “Mid90’s” as mainly a niche arthouse drama that projects nostalgia wholesale, you might enjoy it, but I left it pretty much indifferent and not feeling very connected by anything that unfolded.
Sunny Suljic plays Steve, a preteen boy who spends most of his time getting beaten by his big brother and trying to figure out how to peg his relationship with his mom, who obviously spent much of her childhood giving rearing children. In an effort to find some place to belong, he begins working on getting close to a group of skaters that hang out at the local skate shop. As he gains acceptance, he also begins to come of age, and tries to figure out what kind of person he’s going to be. Once again, much of “Mid90’s” is mainly a niche drama that obviously channels a lot of personal themes for Jonah Hill, but doesn’t accomplish much in the realm of characterization.
Hill spends a lot of the time on a sluggish pacing and almost zero emphases on character. This is a shame as there is interesting material mined, especially between the relationship of shop keeper Roy and his friend Ruben. As they spend a lot of their time skating and hanging around a lot of has ran skateboarders and athletes, Roy begins to want something more than merely hanging out and getting drunk. This creates a wedge between him and his friend Ruben, who wants to just party and has no ambition. The overtones of how time eventually runs out and you begin to want more before it’s too late is virtually overshadowed by a lot of aimless dialogue and loose sub-plots that are almost never resolved.
The whole sub-plot between Steve and his big brother Ian (The always great Lucas Hedges is so underused) is also very under developed, as we’re never quite sure where they stand once the film ends. There’s no real resolution for anyone once the film comes to a close, leaving a lot of it just dangling in a cop out message about how open ended our lives can be. Hill doesn’t convey a lot of unique ideas and oddly enough almost seems to crib his style from Larry Clarke. “Mid90’s” almost feels like a soft remake of “Kids” at times, leaning toward almost ripping whole pages from “Wassup Rockers.” I enjoyed Katherine Waterston’s turn and how much we learn about her as the overwhelmed and under experienced mother Dabney, who can barely make heads or tails of her life. “Mid90’s” will connect with some people, but as a first effort from Jonah Hill it’s just a serviceable drama held back by its lack of heart, soul, and direction.