‘Mid90s’ marks a promising, but flawed, directorial debut

Mid90s (2018)

Mid90s (2018)

Directed by Jonah Hill

Sickeningly accurate dialogue between immature teenagers defines “Mid90s,” Jonah Hill’s directorial debut about a young boy who becomes friends with a bunch of skateboarders. If you are anywhere between 20 and 30 years old, you probably remember vividly the disgusting names that people used when they wanted to refer to anybody they didn’t like. If you weren’t called those names in middle school, you were probably using them yourselves. “Faggot” and “retard” were used to insult people, without regard to their sexual orientation or their mental abilities, but just because it was decided that those names referred to people who you shouldn’t want to be associated with. “Mid90s” is full of dialogue like that. It would be funnier if it wasn’t so offensive and irritating, and didn’t drudge up such bad memories (and not the nostalgia I think Hill was shooting for). I’m not sure he wanted us to see these ridiculous characters ironically or hate them, but aside from one or two of them, I hated them almost immediately. Probably because they reminded me of all the bad things that came with being a kid that age (the youngest is maybe 12 or 13, the oldest is 18). I couldn’t take them seriously, because they had the same traits as the people in high school I couldn’t stand.

Olan Prenatt and Ryder McLaughlin in Mid90s (2018)

Playing too far against type, Lucas Hedges plays a douchebag so douchebag-y I could smell the Axe body spray (liberally applied, I assume) wafting through the movie screen. He buttons his striped polos all the way up and drinks orange juice out of a gallon container because that’s what the wannabe gangster meathead types did back then. It looks more absurd now than it did then, and Hedges—the goodie-goodie type in movies like “Manchester by the Sea” (sure he had two girlfriends, but you laughed because you knew he really couldn’t have) and “Lady Bird” (where he was the preppy kid with the rich grandma)—is absolutely not the guy to play him. Sunny Soljic (in the lead role) plays a character so far away from any 13-year-old I’ve ever encountered that he is almost impossible to relate to. Maybe his experience wasn’t too far from ordinary in mid-90s Los Angeles, but most moviegoers didn’t grow up in mid-90s Los Angeles. One bright spot is Jerrod Carmichael, making a cameo as a security guard. I’m not sure if he got to write his own lines or what, but they work perfectly for him.

“Mid90s” is about as uneventful as real life, a coming-of-age story with only a couple milestone events to make note of. With a script from Hill (who helped write “21 Jump Street” and its sequel, plus “Sausage Party”), “Mid90s” is alternately wickedly funny or boring as hell. Some of the laughs came from moments that I hope were supposed to be meant ironically, and not taken seriously. But throughout the movie, I had trouble telling the difference. I would call it a comedy if it weren’t for a few very serious scenes that cut pretty deep. “Lady Bird” (the last great coming-of-age story set in the 90s) made audiences laugh and cry, but “Mid90s” is different—its serious moments leave you feeling sad, and maybe hopeless. In “Lady Bird,” you cried because you knew it would be okay.

Jonah Hill, Lucas Hedges, and Sunny Suljic in Mid90s (2018)

Maybe Jonah Hill has a future in directing. “Mid90s” certainly looks cinematic, with its hot 90s L.A. setting and funky aspect ratio and dope soundtrack (and less exciting, but still notable score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), but the writing left me wondering how I could’ve been expected to empathize. It might be for some people, but for this Mid20s guy it didn’t rub me the right way.


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