Support 100 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

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • 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
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Content from our partners
Why competition is the key to customer satisfaction
High streets remain vitally important to local communities
The future of gas

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