View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
20 November 2019updated 14 Sep 2021 2:18pm

Jonah Hill’s Mid90s: a playlist first and a film second

By Ryan Gilbey

Music figures heavily in Mid90s, written and directed by the actor Jonah Hill and set in the Los Angeles skateboard scene late last century. The angelic 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) takes refuge from his bullying elder brother (Lucas Hedges) in a skate shop where he falls in with a sweet-natured crew headed by Ray (Na-Kel Smith). They look out for one another and ask wide-eyed questions (“Why are white people so in love with their pets?”) that sound less like dialogue than ideas for stand-up skits.

Indeed, the entire film seems palpably written rather than felt, even before we get to Ray’s big speech about the domestic turbulence that unites the gang. The dingy cinematography and abrasive score scream authenticity, but Mid90s hits every last beat of the coming-of-age movie: there’s the first sexual experience; the artistically-inclined friend (a film-maker, though in Stand By Me it was a writer and in City of God a photographer); the rift and rapprochement. Spoiler alert: Stevie’s brother loved him all along.

Staged with skill is one scene in which Ray makes a skateboard for Stevie, attending to the task like a medieval blacksmith forging a warrior’s sword. Mostly the film strives desperately for effect over logic. Why choreograph a complicated single take unless it is for Hill to advertise his virtuosity? Why give prominence to a rubber Bill Clinton mask, except for the sake of gratuitous weirdness? Why include Morrissey’s “We’ll Let You Know”, a football hooligan’s lament, when the lyrics contradict the characters? It only adds to the suspicion that Mid90s was a playlist first and a film second. 

Mid90s (15)
dir: Jonah Hill

Content from our partners
Inside the UK's enduring love for chocolate
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health

This article appears in the 10 Apr 2019 issue of the New Statesman, System failure

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.