DVD REVIEW: Jonah Hill makes nice directorial impression with ‘mid90s’

December 29, 2018 GMT

With “mid90s,” Jonah Hill does a good job of chronicling what latchkey kids do during the day and how they get into trouble.

Focusing on a 13-year-old who finds friendship among a group of skateboarders, it shows what peer pressure, influence and, frankly, a lack of love can do.

Always smiling Stevie (Sunny Suljic) turns away from home when his abusive brother (Lucas Hedges) delivers one punch too many. Rather than stay home and risk the wrath of an anal retentive bully, he latches on to an easy-going crowd of skaters. They think nothing of smoking and drinking before noon, skirting police and putting dreams on hold just to hang out.

Hill, who’s making his directorial debut, lets everything unfold naturally. Conversations don’t sound like much on the surface, but they add up to plenty. With his brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles skateboard, Stevie begins to show skills – and gain acceptance.

Gradually, the others consider him one of theirs. They call him “Sunburn” (the name’s origin is interesting) and watch as he dares to do things they wouldn’t. During the course of the film, we get to see his rite of passage – for good and bad.

While Hill (who also wrote the screenplay) doesn’t salt his story with unnecessary drama, he does include moments of tension, fear and sadness.

Stevie’s mom (Katherine Waterston) has many of her own issues – ones that affect her sons. But when it’s critical, she’s there for them.

Set in the 1990s, “mid90s” has plenty of hallmarks of the era. If you were around then, you’ll recall the games and clothes, remember the trappings that were oh-so-important. Even though skateboarder culture may not be familiar to many, it rings true, particularly when Stevie and his posse get in trouble.

The four who guide him have plenty of their own baggage. Among the most interesting -- a film enthusiast they call Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin). He constantly shoots video of the tricks they do and the encounters they make. He’s quickly dismissed by the others, but it’s easy to see his potential.

When you least expect it, Hill gives us the fruits of his labor and suggests he may be destined for something after all.

Because it’s set in a time when cellphones were a convenience and not a necessity, “mid90s” embraces conversation. Stevie, oddly, doesn’t talk much but certainly leaves an impression.

Suljic is a wonder, able to convey plenty of emotion with little more than a smile. He’s a dandy skateboarder, too, able to pull off tricks most wouldn’t expect. Most of all, he’s proof a little kindness can go a long way. He’s not “fake nice,” as one of the boys says. He’s the real deal – and a perfect deck for a story like this to ride.

Hill tries plenty of techniques (shooting the film on Super 16 to give it a ’90s look) and succeeds with many of them. This isn’t a perfect display of his skill but it reveals he’s full of promise.