I’ll be up front: I didn’t care for MID90s. But that doesn’t mean I thought it was a terrible or poorly made film. Far from it. This is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut and I think he shows great potential in being a fantastic non-actors/actors director, giving us some great debut performances or great performances from those individuals we already know and love. It is just that his narrow view in this film didn’t really resonate with me. Going into this, I thought it would be another great hangout film or film that really defines the times it is trying to portray; For Example: Dazed and Confused, Diner, Can’t Hardly Wait, Clueless, the recent Eighth Grade, Swingers, Everybody Wants Some, Boyhood, and/or American Graffiti. Instead it focused on just the aspect of some skater kids, poor family life, and the notion of acceptance; the poor family life/acceptance aspect I’ve seen done a lot better in a lot of other films, and personally I never resonated with the skater kids because I wasn’t one in the 90s. And this isn’t Jonah Hill’s fault. I personally had nothing to latch onto in the movie.
It’s okay to have narrow views in film, it does work in a lot of them (especially if what is told gives that individual a personal attachment), but for me, with narrow views (especially if the story doesn’t resonate with you), having multiple relatable or sympathetic characters is a must. In this film, I only really liked one character, and it wasn’t even the main protagonist. While everyone did a fantastic job acting, especially considering that, other than Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston, everyone else was a complete non-actor/unknown, I couldn’t stand their characters. Stevie, who is the main protagonist trying to find acceptance with a group of shady skater friends because his mom goes through men like clothes in her closet and the brother is a narcissistic asshole, I found to be a complete brat. He doesn’t even win over your sympathy in the end. It doesn’t seem like he learned anything. The film has one scene of Stevie buying a CD for his brother he thinks he doesn’t have, but then he doesn’t respect his brothers wishes by going into his room anyway when he is told not to. Stevie is a huge hypocrite in this film, and I just didn’t feel anything but resentment toward him. The skater friends are basically one dimensional beings. There is a character nicknamed Fourth Grade I thought was the most interesting in the film, because he was kind of socially dumb and just wanted to make movies in his future, but we never really get to know his character other than those two aspects. We learn nothing of his family life or why he acts the way he does, which is why I didn’t end up caring for his character.
Which brings me to while I think Jonah Hill has the potential to be a great director, his writing needs some work. All the characters, except for the main black kid Ray, are very poorly written and narrowly constructed. You could say that most of them or only one or at best two dimensional. I already mentioned the kid nicknamed Fourth Grade, and I already mentioned the protagonist Stevie, so let’s look at the others. All I know about Stevie’s older brother (played well with what he had by Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges) is that he’s an asshole that likes to hit and bully on his brother a shit ton, talk the talk but not walk the walk, and may or may not be gay. But it is never told or even shown why this is (not saying there needs to be a why in him being gay, talking about the other two things). He looks like he really does maybe care for his brother at the end, but no good reason is given to why he acts the way he does. If the movie wants to try and earn his sympathy at the end, it needs to do more than just show him screaming in one scene because he is frustrated, giving us none of his back story and just handing his kid brother a orange juice at the end of the film. You have this other skater nicknamed FuckShit who just likes to get drunk and fuck bitches…that’s all you get to know about him. You also have a kid that kind of gets Stevie into their group of friends, Reuben, but he ends up being a two dimensional character that does the “cliched” thing and gets jealous of Stevie, and the film tells us that his mom beats him and his sister, but never shows it or any other aspect of his life. Then you have Stevie’s mom, who is in like three and a half short scenes, that basically shows her confront the skater kids trying to be a “concerned” mom, gets onto the older brother for stealing money from her drawer, and then talks briefly how she was pregnant when she turned 18 at the brother’s 18th birthday. And there is a quick scene of a man leaving her room, zipping himself up. But we don’t see anything else or truly get to know her, and her actions don’t make that much sense. Maybe that was the point?
The only truly great character that Jonah Hill wrote was that of Ray, the black teenager that is the leader of this group of skater friends. We get a great scene of him telling Stevie how life is and a deep view of his own life and how a tragedy shook up his world. We get other many scenes of Ray with different layers to his complicated character. Ray doesn’t want to give a shit about life, but starts giving a shit when he feels like he is grasping onto a thin ray of hope that might get himself into a better version of his reality. It is quite a great performance by newcomer Na-kel Smith and in a better film, I think he could’ve even gotten nominated for a supporting actor award. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t measure up to his character or his performance. And I think a problem with all of this is that the film was too short; only 84 minutes and that is including credits. When the film ended, I literally said out loud to myself, “that’s it?” I think if 20 to 25 minutes were added onto the film, giving all the other characters more meat to their roles, with some added individual scenes to people other than Stevie (especially of his brother and mother), this film could’ve been a straight up masterpiece. I could say I don’t think the movie got the 90s right, but I’m not going to, because it might have with a certain small group of people. If you are in that category, please let me know.
Alas, I was very disappointed. And notice how I didn’t complain about there being not much of a story or plot. I would be a hypocrite saying so on this. There are a many great coming of age films, like Dazed and Confused, where there really is no plot, just a bunch of memorable scenes of different, colorful character hanging out. My complaint is that there weren’t all that many different characters, and they certainly weren’t that colorful. And the scenes, other than Ray having a one on one with Stevie, definitely were not memorable. There are going to be many people that completely disagree with me on this film. And that is okay and I understand why. Those people probably got more emotionally and personally invested in its very narrow view. Ultimateily, I completely and totally recommend this film is you are a skater kid, or were a skater kid in the 90s, and I can slightly recommend it for people that always seem to be looking for acceptance. Other than that very limited scope recommendation, if what I said doesn’t interest you or you don’t feel like you could personally connect with a film like this, look elsewhere.