In the mid-nineties thirteen year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives with his mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Caught between the senseless, antagonistic beatings he gets from Ian and well-meant concerns of his mum, Stevie is looking for something to hang on to. In the sunshine of one adolescence-shedding summer, he might just find it in the ‘Mid90’s’.
...aches with period detail without ever drawing attention to itself.
Despite its short running time of ninety six minutes, actor-turned-director Jonah HIll’s ’Mid90’s’ lacks for nothing. On the face of it, it is a simple rites of passage story which starts as shamelessly as it finishes without any apologies made. With all of its characters achingly-well rendered whether by dialogue, dress code or the unspoken sense of pre-millennial tension that pervades each of their lives, its skeweringly simple observations are painfully made. Set inside a golden summer where each character’s destinies are being slowly eclipsed by their own competing realisations, Stevie’s is the most graphically shown. In an excessively rich cast of wastrel talent, Sunny Suljic’s Stevie arrival as Stevie is a truly affecting transition from innocence to Pixote-like over-familiarity. In a cast where everyone seems to be carrying a deep, open wound, Suljic’s performance stands out as impressively affecting.
For a movie so deliberately set inside a specific time-capsule, the shooting style suitably aches with period detail without ever drawing attention to itself – and herein inside this selflessness lies its power. After a brutal and disorientating opening scene you rapidly lose all sense of its movie’s inner mechanics; of how Lucas Hedges performance as Ian is so different to his turn in ‘Manchester By The Sea’; of how this is a debut feature is from the guy in ‘Moneyball’ because in ‘Mid90’s none of that matters. This is a film solely concerned about its characters and nothing else. Free from any artifice or unnecessarily showy camera moves, this is a mature drama whose eschewment of any in-product career announcements underlines just how much of an accomplished arrival it actually is.
Daft, stupid, insensitive and occasionally unconscionable, ‘Mid90’s’ is a growing-up tale whose juvenile structure disappears in front of your eyes. Partly a tragedy in the making, partly built upon on the ashes of a previously-alluded melancholia, Jonah Hill’s debut presents Stevie’s life as he himself finds it. Deft, disarming and far more accomplished than anyone might have expected, ‘Mid90’s’ is much more than your average calling card feature. Made on its own terms and told in its own way, this is a movie which (while difficult to watch in places) will nonetheless capture your heart the longer it goes on.
In the ‘Mid90’s’ love is definitely the answer and in this tart take on a decade’s preoccupation with pain, you get a sanguine dive into a past that is not so far away and a future sense of what to expect next from its talented actor-turned-director.