Without knowing anything about Mid90s, my immediate conclusion, knowing that Jonah Hill had directed the opening film of the Glasgow Film Festival, was to expect a laugh-out loud comedy on par with Knocked Up and Superbad, but my expectations were ridiculed with this gritty coming-of-age drama that considers issues such as domestic abuse, violence, broken families and social deprivation as well as sporting a whopper of an OST.
Mid90s is set in Los Angeles and quite clearly in the mid nineties, as we are intially introduced to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bed spread and Street Fighter II t-shirt. Thirteen-year-old, Stevie spends his summer fleeting between a troubled home life with a violent and affected older brother, and a crew of new mates he meets at a skate shop. An American coming-of-age comedy-drama, it’s still far from the likes of Juno or Almost Famous, as there is much grit to this directorial feature debut from Hill. Violent and acrimonious, with a focus on the less affluent end of LA, there is a clear desire from protagonist Stevie to fit in and find solidarity with people he can relate to and like in his life.
He naively befriends young skater Ruben, who introduces him to the rest of the skater group: Ray, “Fuckshit,” and “Fourth Grade.” Although inexperienced as a skater Stevie mimics the behaviour of the elders in this group, really hitting home his desperation to be accepted and develop the same camaraderie that he’s been witnessing from this quad. He goes as far as smoking, drinking and experimenting with marijuana to get the acceptance he is so keenly looking for. He even starts messing around with girls, having his first sexual experience.
There’s a key point in the film, a short scene with just Stevie (Sunny Suljic) and Ray (Na-kel Smith), where Stevie sits alone behind the skate shop, feeling self-destructive and isolated, at which Ray tells him that everyone has their stuff to contend with, and that his is not necessarily worse than anyone else’s. However, it is the party scene behind the shop, which highlights the group breaking up with tension between both Ruben and Stevie, as well as long-term friends Ray and “Fuckshit.” This party ends the film in hospital, as the unruly gang lose not only their cohesion but any sense of priorities.
Stylised and with an impactful soundtrack that incorporated Morrissey, Cypress Hill and Nirvana there are moments as a film viewer you are being subjected to the stuff of music videos but it is the performances of the main characters as well as the story, which adds to it’s gritty vibe. Having only ever seen Jonah Hill’s work as an actor, I was pleasantly surprised by this debut feature. It’s worth a trip to the Glasgow Film Festival.
Mid90s will be screening on at the GFT on Thursday 21st February at 13:15pm