I can’t lie. There’s a certain connotation that comes along with being an actor-director, especially when you’re a comedic actor so needless to say, I had no idea how Jonah Hill was going to tackle his debut feature behind the camera, but I had a hunch he was going to really surprise me. Sure enough, he did. Mid90s is a Coming-of-Age comedy centered on 11 year old, Stevie who finds true friendship and belonging in the skate community. He gets into trouble and experiences many ‘firsts’ with these new friends that shape how the youngin’ will carry himself forward.
Jonah Hill has had plenty of great filmmakers to study under during his 15 years of acting, with Martin Scorsese and Bennett Miller being just a few of them. You can immediately get a sense that Jonah’s completely comfortable as a director, choosing to ignore the traditional ‘wide screen’ aspect ratio most Hollywood films used in favor for a more nostalgic, 4:3 ratio that gives it a true feel fo the 90’s. (There’s a picture below if you’re not a film nerd and have no idea what I’m talking about) Along with being shot on 16mm film, Mid90s may garner a lot of nostalgia, but it’s far rom being a corny Nostalgia-Porn indie project. It simply feels as if this film was pulled right out of the 90’s as opposed to something that’s attempting to remake it.
Jonah takes a lot of cinematic techniques that he clearly learned from some of his high profile list of mentors. Stylistic uses of jump cuts and tracking shots are just a few of the touches that give it that young Scorsese feel. But, as for the heart of the film, I noticed a lot of similarities in Mid90s to Francois Truffaut’s debut film The 400 Blows. Both centered on young kids placed in a fixed time in history, Jonah Hill takes an auteur’s approach much like Truffaut and gives it a personal feel that makes you feel as if Stevie is an embodied form of Jonah himself. Even the ending itself leaves off on an unfinished note and leaves us with an ocean of speculation as to what will happen next to young Stevie. When the credits started rolling at the end of Mid90s, my reaction was exactly the same when I saw ‘FIN’ scrawled across the screen at the end of The 400 Blows. Did our friend get what he wanted? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. This is a film about a time in a person’s life, not about any overarching plot. We peak into a moment of Stevie’s life and we leave, that is all.
While there are a few moments of weakness in the film that mainly generate from some of the poor acting, it actually works to give Mid90s a certain, innocent charm. With it being Jonah’s first directorial effort, the cast was aptly made up of mostly non-actors as well. While at times, the film plunges into certain ‘Full House’ moments that make things feel kind of preachy, it demonstrates real passion for a director to put on the Mr. Rogers Sweater like that. Mid90s truly feels like a director’s film. I mean that in the way that I describe Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, in which, you can tell both films were made by people who truly love cinema. It’s a really awe-inspiring thing to be able to witness the blossoming of a real directorial talent.
- Tristan Chandra