Jonah Hill’s Directorial Debut Mid90s and the Encapsulation of Time: TIFF Review

✯✯✯✯½

To talk about Jonah Hill’s Mid90s one would have to mention how much a testament to said era this film truly feels like. But it also feels like very perfect material for him to cover knowing that he already had been made big thanks to the coming of age genre with Superbad, but I would never have suspected that anything near as good as this. Mid90s isn’t a film that shallowly builds itself upon a love for that place in time, but it’s a film that seeks to capture all the good and bad memories that have formed our own sense of nostalgia – if anything better creates a perfect time capsule from said era. Like the best coming-of-age films, the formation from a memory isn’t something new, yet the brutality of the honesty on the screen can also make such films resonate. Don’t think of this as being Jonah Hill’s answer to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird from last year, but like said film, it’s his own capsule of what shaped him to be the person he is – and it all plays to such a wonderful onscreen testament.

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Sunny Suljic stars as Stevie, a teenaged boy living in Los Angeles – trying to live a daily life like any other teen. He lives together with his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), who have only made him feel completely out of place within the world around him. Yet everything changes the moment he finds intrigue in a gang of skateboarders with whom he fits in quickly. This isn’t a story that could so easily have been redone to take place within a modern time frame, according to director Jonah Hill himself – who simply wanted to show his viewers what it felt like trying to build connections without the need for technology that has also become a part of everyone’s daily life. Hill made a film that was born out of love for the time period of its title, yet also one that feels so real it can only resonate with modern audiences.

It’s astonishing for me to imagine that this was actually a directorial debut as we speak, because of how Hill constructs every moment of Mid90s, every music cue, every small detail, every interaction – all of this feels like something that could be happening any day or any time. This is a film that brings oneself back to what it was that defined the mid-90’s era for oneself, by getting you to know the culture of the time period in the same way that we familiarize ourselves with trends from the modern world. Jonah Hill’s own direction feels very much like that of a fly-on-the-wall, watching these events unfold right in front of a viewer’s own eyes from all the fondest memories and the more dark moments. To think that this was only the effort of a first-time filmmaker just blows me away, because of how Jonah Hill sticks to a clear love for the time period while also staying true to the reality of the period without a need for overt nostalgia – it’s what best captures the mid 90’s on the screen.

For as much as one can say about Jonah Hill’s own direction, it’s also the very spirit of the story’s place in time that also makes Mid90s feel more real, because of the energy its stars place within the very moment. We already have a star-making turn for Sunny Suljic coming by, but I’m amazed at how Jonah Hill directs many of these actors, some of which have no prior acting experience, in order to best capture the spirit of the 90’s by simply letting them be themselves. Together with Hill’s own direction, it helps make you feel within the moment because of how Hill directs such interactions between characters, as if they are also inviting you to be a part of the moment. But the intimacy of these moments can already be felt, even when the film suddenly turns towards much darker territory – because of how Hill touches upon the sense of togetherness that binds people together at any point in time.

Mid90s is a film all about the lifestyle, where everyone truly felt as if they were finding a way to stay connected with one another – and it just blows me away how Jonah Hill could craft something of this sort as a first-time director. The brutality in the film’s honesty can already be felt from first frame to last, but it’s also a film that strives to make you feel a part of that moment. Sometimes, that could be all that one needs in order to make something far more meaningful on the spot, and Jonah Hill has achieved all of that on the spot with Mid90s. It’s all about what made the mid-90’s as wonderful as they remember it to be, but also every bit as sad as one can remember them to be. Yet none of this ever arises out of a feeling of shallow nostalgia, it just arises from the intricacies of interactions between characters that also invite the viewer to be a part of it.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via A24.


Directed by Jonah Hill
Screenplay by Jonah Hill
Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Ken Kao, Jonah Hill, Lila Yacoub, Mikey Alfred
Starring Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston, Na-Kel Smith, Gio Galicia, Olan Prenatt, Ryder McLaughlin, Alexa Demie
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 84 minutes

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