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Movie Review: “Mid90s” is innovative, intriguing and weird to a fault

Olan Prenatt and Na-kel Smith in “Mid90s.” Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut “Mid90s” stars Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt and Katherine Waterston for a film that was both innovative and weird to a fault. The film takes place, you guessed it, in the mid-1990s, and is about a boy named Stevie, played by Suljic, who avoids his family by hanging out with a group of older kids who skateboard around the city.

This is Hill’s directorial debut, so I of course was interested in seeing how he would move his acting ability to behind the camera. I found the premise and trailer intriguing, and wondered what Hill could do to a pretty cliched coming-of-age genre.

It’s not always perfect, but Hill’s direction is consistently exciting and unpredictable, which made the film very fun to watch. Hill uses distinct techniques with the sound, dialogue and plot structure that I have rarely seen. For a debut, it was nice to see him going for a strange, new style.

The performances from the majority of the new cast shined, especially Smith’s supporting role as Ray. Ray is an exceptionally well-made character that did not develop as I expected, I thought he had excellent chemistry with Stevie.

Suljic was great in the lead role, continuing to impress after starring in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Suljic brings emotion without having to speak a word, often being the highlight of a scene strictly on how much or how little he is smiling. Even when Hill’s direction falters, Suljic found a way to impress.

Hedges and Waterston were the only big-name actors on the cast list, and both were great, even if only in very limited roles. I loved Prenatt’s performance, especially the dynamic between his character and Ray as the film progressed.

Hill creates great moments of dialogue that make the characters appear well-developed and realistic. The problems that Stevie faces with his family and his new friends were equally interesting — which has a lot to do with the articulate work Hill does with the conversations between characters.

Where Hill struggles is in fully creating a plotline that flows with his interesting characters and bizarre style. Most of the movie is very entertaining, and is pretty much a breeze to watch at 85 minutes long. But due to the length, the movie seems to end abruptly and does not feel at all finished.

Another annoying part to me was how loud and jarring some of the music is at random points in the movie. The soundtrack works for the most part, but it comes in like a jump-scare for no reason at all, actively scaring me on more than one occasion.

Hill is so close to nailing it on the first try with “Mid90s,” but the film needs some sharpening. The characters, performances and dialogue are nearly perfect and the style of Hill’s direction is exciting and promising. However, the end doesn’t land as much as one would hope, and the whole movie doesn’t add up doesn’t add up as it should.

Still, “Mid90s” is a strong film with a lot of great components, and shows Hill as a promising new director to look forward to in the future.

3.75/5

 

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