Review: ‘Mid90s’ (Manhood Unguided)

A dissection of unsupervised impending masculinity.

A little over two decades ago in the summertime of a Los Angeles suburb, thirteen-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) seeks an escape from the random frequent abuse of his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) going unnoticed by his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston). After seeing the camaraderie of local skateboarders rejecting adult authority, Stevie ingratiates himself with the group: potential-pro shop owner Ray (Na-kel Smith); rich-kid wastoid Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt); video-obsessed Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin); and former youngest member Ruben (Gio Galicia). In the absence of role models but with a unique view of the world, the group bonds with one another in spite of race, class, and privilege — for better and for worse.

Actor/writer/producer Jonah Hill is taking a stab at a new title: feature director. From a story reportedly close to his heart and getting a lot of buzz for raw filmmaking, you can see the influence of previous writing outings such as the 21 Jump Street movies and the very R-rated Sausage Party. Whether a passion piece or vanity project, is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut viewer-ready for the Indie scene and/or possibly mainstream cinema?

For some viewers, this is a peek into a different world when the Internet wasn’t portable and latchkey kids spent their city summers trying (poorly) to stay out of trouble. For others, this was life, and it feels realistic without pulling punches with either subject matter or language. It’s Darwinism in progress, wondering if these kids will survive, how something horrible might happen to them, and whether anyone will actually notice. For all their faults and myriad opportunities for adults to judge them, viewers also glimpse their history, potential, and worth… especially when no one else bothers.

The production meanders from revelation to revelation with seemingly little structure; not a usual way to deliver a narrative but it mostly works here. This is most startling when the film ends without the usual crescendo benefiting a denouement; it makes sense when you think about it, but it has the immediate effect of a needle being yanked off a record player. Perhaps this would have worked better with a more traditional (read: obvious) transitional device, especially since we know the film that takes place between school years. This may also have been intentional: being in-and-of the moment with no thought about tomorrow, especially when a poor decision could mean tomorrow never comes.

The title seems a bit misleading since it can be argued that a suburban skate shop in Los Angeles isn’t necessarily representative of everyone in the mid-1990s, but it is one version of it from the POV of these ignored kids doing the best they can. That said, the deliberately Indie-look of the cinematography lends itself to the idea of the production being as unsupervised and foolhardy as the characters… especially for an uncensored tale of foul-mouthed under-aged substance-abusing ‘tweens and young adults you’d sooner avoid on the street than invest any time in.

Mid90s is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, some violent behavior/disturbing images involving minors and sans fornicating lunch meat.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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