Who would have thought that the foul-mouthed kid from Superbad would go on to direct one of the year’s best comedy-dramas? Yet here we are with Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s paean to youth, friendship and nostalgia.
Shot in 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio and on super 16mm film, Hill faithfully replicates the look of the 90s – as much as the film is autobiographical it is also an unabashed tribute to the analogue, pre-widescreen TV visual culture of the era. Some may balk at the unending nostalgia, and it’s true that perhaps a few too-many Ninja Turtle, Super Nintendo, Street Fighter II cultural signifiers inorganically crowd the frame, but beneath the iconography is a sincere and authentic portrayal of early adolescence in the halcyon days of MTV and skate videos.
Hill has spoken of the influence of both Shane Meadows’ This Is England and largely forgotten kids flick The Sandlot Kids as his inspiration. Meadows sense of bittersweet nostalgia is felt throughout Mid90s, though Hill’s film forgoes the real darkness that into which Meadows typically delves. Instead, Mid90s’ flirtation with angst, peer pressure and the dangerous, labyrinthine social hierarchies of teenage life is arguably a truer depiction of most people’s experience of adolescence.
The loose plot concerns Stevie (an adorable Sunny Suljic) at the outset of a transformative summer holiday. At 13 years of age, Stevie is at that intolerable stage in life where children begin their slow, painful transition into adulthood. It’s arguably the worst part of adolescence – Stevie has all of the hormones of his elders, but not half enough of the psychological resilience to handle them.
Inducted into a new group of friends by self-appointed badass Ruben (Gio Galecia), Stevie quickly charms the older Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and Ray (Na-Kel Smith). Anyone who was a teen in the era of Green Day and the Misfits will instantly recognise these warm, directionless delinquents, idiotic antics, nicknames and all. Ray’s mentoring of Stevie is especially moving, culminating in a very recognisable talking-to that Ray gives to Stevie after his rivalry with Ruben finally comes to a head. There are inevitable consequences to the group’s shenanigans, with Stevie’s mother (Katherine Waterston) run ragged by he and his complicated older brother (Lucas Hedges).
The creeping sense of danger in Stevie hanging out with the gang, particularly when they start plying him with drink and drugs, is palpable. But they’re not using him – just showing him fraternity in the only way they know how. While Mid90s may lack real political punch, Hill has nonetheless crafted an honest and warm paean to a nostalgic past, its story relatable to anyone who remembers the daft friends that helped them navigate the baffling maze of adolescence.
The Toronto International Film Festival 2018 takes place from 6-16 September.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell