A good chunk of my childhood was spent during the 1990s so I think I am qualified to say it was a pretty unremarkable decade. Things got off to a pretty cool start with alternative music, Wu-Tang Clan, and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. By 1999 however, Smash Mouth’s “All Star” ruled the radio, The Phantom Menace hit theaters, and Mankind beat The Rock for the WWF Championship during the halftime of Super Bowl XXXIII. So, what exactly happened? Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is a coming of age story set before the world seemingly lost all semblance of sanity.
When a movie is titled Mid90s, it is a safe bet the nostalgia factor will be high. While Hill’s film will certainly evoke memories, it has more depth. In an early scene in the movie, Stevie is seen looking at his older brother’s CDs. Names like Mobb Deep, Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde, Fat Joe, and Gang Starr can be seen in the collection. However, the camera does not linger on the music collection. The point of the scene is to show Stevie’s admiration of his brother.
The decision to not make Mid90s a love letter to the era is a wise one. The focus is on the characters instead of the period. The look of the movie is straight out of the decade, with the clothes and the way people talk being especially well done. However, it is never overpowering as Mid90s looks like any other coming of age movie; this one just happens to be set in a very distinctive time.
Unfortunately, the attempts at not trying too hard end up having the opposite effect at times. No where is this more clear than in the movie’s soundtrack. There is nothing wrong with the musical choices, there is just so many of them. The entire movie looks more like a music video than a coming of age film. While this may be intentional, it also takes away from the film. (Also, as funny as it is to hear Morrissey seamlessly fade into “Liquid Swords,” it just sounds odd.)
This blends into the films next problem. There really is no flow. Stevie is a a young boy growing up who lives with his brother and his mom. He eventually meets his skater friends, at which point Mid90s becomes a series of events. At first, it seems as if the movie is showing the new friends bond. However, this continues until the finale and abrupt ending.
Thankfully, the cast are very charming in their roles. All of the friends have differing personalities – though aside from Stevie none are really developed. That being said, all of them are relatable. Even Ruben who is only given a a backstory in one throwaway line will remind audiences of someone they knew. On top of that, Stevie is a character audiences can get behind. Watching him sneak into his older brothers room or learning to skateboard to impress new friends is cute and endearing.
The performances in the movie are hit and miss however it is not the fault of its young actors. The dialogue attempts to take on a natural flow and for the most part it works. These are just a bunch of kids hanging out and saying the silly things teenagers say. But when it does fail, it does so horribly, sounding “corny” as one of Stevie’s new friends would say.
Mid90s is a strong debut from Jonah Hill that will impress audiences despite having its problems. Hill’s direction can sometimes be all over the place and he definitely needs to find his narrative voice, but his movie is an overall enjoyable experience.