After graduating from the Judd Apatow school of stoner comedy, Jonah Hill has gone onto work under some of the biggest filmmakers in the business. Now he has transitioned behind the camera to write and direct coming-of-age drama Mid90s. Set across a summer in Los Angeles, the plot centres around thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) who is taken in by a tightknit but troubled skater group as he struggles to find his place in cultural society.
Climbing out from beneath ninja turtles duvet covers and donning a baggy street fighter tee, the gutsy protagonist epitomises the nostalgic tone of the piece from the opening scenes. Stevie is naïve and impressionable but once he finds his wheels, the camaraderie of the gang is captured brilliantly through profane and punchy dialogue. As the narrative develops, we see that they all skate to escape their problems, and because of their togetherness, the highs and lows carry emotional weight.
Hill writes and directs with a personal passion and his influences bleed through onto the screen and into the superb soundtrack. Trading skinheads for skaters, his creative style has the rough and ready authenticity of an LA Shane Meadows. Aside from Suljic and Lucas Hedges, who is proficiently off-piste as Stevie’s bullyboy brother, most of the cast are untrained actors. Plucked from the streets and dropped into hip-hop halcyon halfpipes, Na-kel Smith and Olan Prenatt are particularly impressive as leader of the pack, Ray, and the hilariously nicknamed Fuckshit respectively.
The story grinds through genre tropes but it’s so carefully crafted that we feel every bump and scrape with little Stevie along the way. It’s deliberately skitty and sketchy in its delivery, and as self-assured as you’d expect it to be coming from someone with so much industry experience. The tagline reads ‘fall, get back up’ but Hill has pulled off a masterstroke trick first time off the ramp.