By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Adolescence has always been an awkward and messy time, and the 90s were no picnic either. Jonah Hill makes his directorial debut with this beautiful gem of a coming-of-age film, which covers life as a young teen during the last decade of the 20th century. Hill’s film covers the highs and lows of being a teenager growing up in a cynical time, while trying to find strength and identity during a frightening and uncertain period of one’s life. With a young cast of amateur, but talented, actors, Hill pulls off a major feat with a film that is poignant, joyful and a little bit scary.
Sunny Suljic stars as Stevie, a 13 year-old boy who lives with his mean older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston). For Stevie , like most kids his age, 13 is that pivotal age where one must abandon most connections with childhood and find a more “mature” identity as a teen. Shy and a little unsure of himself, Stevie eventually falls in with a group of more mature local skaters. Captivated with their fun personalities and impressed with their skating skills, Stevie desires to be like them and eventuallly find the inner courage to follow their leads. Of course, these kids have problems and doubts of their own, as he soon discovers. As Stevie matures he realizes that life is not perfect or easy, and everyone eventually falls or wipes out in some way or another. Still, life is all about rising above these wipeouts to find joy again.
I was absolutely impressed with this film. Going into it, I had not seen any trailers and knew so little about it. Jonah Hill has made a truly exceptional film that turned out to be not only my favorite film of Fantastic Fest, but also one of my favorite movies of the year. Hill is an excellent writer and truly shines as a director. I really enjoy his work as an actor, but am actually now more impressed with his storytelling and filmmaking abilities.
The cast is genuinely extraordinary. Sunny Suljic is outstanding as Stevie. His understated charm makes his character Stevie all the more relatable. As his circle of friends, Gio Galicia, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, and Ryder McLaughlin are all wonderful and bring their loveable personalities to their characters. Lucas Hedges, who has become an indie film wonderboy, gives an appropriately hateful and credible turn as Stevie’s abusive brother Ian. I also enjoyed Katherine Waterston as Stevie’s and Ian’s clueless, but well-meaning mother Dabney.
Prior to seeing this film, I was usually curious about or interested in what Jonah Hill, the actor, was doing next. Now, I cannot wait to see what Jonah Hill, the director, plans for his next movie. Mid90s shows that the artist is multitalented and capable of amazing work. Though I am not set on my pick for best director yet, it would please me if he at least earned some nominations for this movie.