In celebrating the teenage California skate rats he idolised as a kid, Jonah Hill gets many things right in ‘Mid90s’, especially if his goal is to make a sweetly stoned wisp of a movie. The actors – notably pint-sized lead Sunny Suljic, already capable of several worried expressions – really look like children. You cringe at their casual meanness, then smile when popularity shines on our hero, Stevie, who has busted his butt repeatedly by falling off his board in his driveway. He’s growing up to Pixies and Cypress Hill songs, gathering his crew, honing his ollies and, in a reversal of fortune, eclipsing the status of his intimidating older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges), a bully at film’s start.
Some dangerous-looking tricks are attempted, but nothing really bad happens, not even during the movie’s out-of-nowhere manufactured climax. Hill isn’t doing straight autobiography (Stevie’s mom is single and you get the subtle sense that finances are dire); the film’s gentle sympathy is rare, if not audacious. You can hear the ‘Superbad’ star’s voice most in the dialogue: reams of pot-addled brain farts that barely veil a constant jockeying for status.
Yet even charitable viewers won’t confuse ‘Mid90s’ for something deeper like ‘Lady Bird’, also the directorial debut of an established Hollywood star, Greta Gerwig, but one trying to make sense out of a keenly observed point of transition. Hill, on the other hand, is content to coast like Stevie toward a pink-hued horizon, hoping the pavement isn’t too bumpy. The movie is nostalgia, pure and simple, unfettered by examination. Even its title is fuzzy and vague.