Making his debut as director with Mid90s, actor Jonah Hill follows a few critical months in the life of a preteen who could only be played by Sunny Suljic, whose emotionally transparent performance makes stretches of the picture – when his character discovers skateboarding and the near-instant friends that come with it – a pure joy.
A gender-flipped sibling to Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen (set in Los Angeles versus that film’s NYC), its narrative of sudden belonging and onrushing perils mirrors that Sundance entry. But in emotional punch and shoulda-seen-this-coming skill, it is more like Hill’s Lady Bird, a gem that feels simultaneously informed by its author’s adolescence and the product of a serious artist’s observational distance.
Shot on Super 16 in the squared-off Academy aspect ratio (…) the movie itself is impeccably but not ostentatiously cool, most obviously in its creative needle-drops. For a long stretch, Mid90s is like the first listen to a mixtape made by a new friend: every episode a surprise, each song delivering information about who that person is going to be in your life. (The film, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, also has musical knowledge beyond its subjects’ taste, sometimes setting their adventures to everything from Philip Glass and ESG to The Mamas & the Papas.)
Though he captures the ecstasy of finding one’s tribe, Hill keeps one eye, then both, on the corners of Stevie’s psyche that continue to threaten his happiness. The picture flirts with melodrama, but no more than actual adolescence – and then ends, having given us just enough structure to be called a movie. It leaves us wanting much more time with this kid called Sunburn, who’s learning which risky behavior leaves a scar, and which is likely to incinerate him.
John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter