By Carmen Saffioti
Published: November 14th, 2018
Mid90s is the latest film from studio A24, known for its artistic and emotional films like Moonlight, and directorial debut from comedic actor Jonah Hill. The film follows adolescent Stevie (Sunny Suljic) and his older friends in mid 1990s Los Angeles as they skate, drink, and mess around without a care. The film is deeply nostalgic, so much so that even if you did not live through the 90s nor been to Los Angeles it can still feel as though you are looking back at your own childhood. The film is authentic to the core; making good on its title, it delivers pop culture references, fashion, and social attitudes of the time period. The rawness of the film makes it truly enjoyable– including moments of adolescents that are relatable to anyone that has been through it.
The film begins with a shot of the hallway and a long pause, and then suddenly Stevie is violently pushed against the wall by his older brother– this scene really brought me back to my childhood. Despite the abuse Stevie suffers at the extent of his older brother, Stevie hopelessly admires him, going into his room to see all of his rap CDS, Jordan’s, and weights. But this idolization is met with silence or abuse, eventually leading Stevie to find new role models. His new friends are high school skaters, Ruben (Gio Galicia), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Ray (Na-kel Smith), and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), who teach Stevie the ropes about “becoming cool.” The rest of the film is essentially about Stevie trying hard to impress his cool new friends by doing increasingly dangerous stunts. Even though this film was about the dangers of peer pressure, it doesn’t come off in a preachy-health class manner. Rather, Stevie is every adolescent who tried to fit into a new group of friends.
Mid90s is saturated with displays of toxic masculinity, but that isn’t so much of a critique of the film but rather an authentic view of the subculture of that time. During one of his first encounters with his new squad, Stevie says thank you to his new friend Ruben (Gio Galicia) who utterly rejects this with disgust and tells Stevie that saying “thank you” is gay as fuck. The toxic masculinity is so over the top that it is hilarious at times, but this is the way that most teenage boys of the time behaved. While most of the scenes in this film are mostly carefree and stupid fun, there is one scene that is uncomfortable to say the least. An older girl named Estee (Alexa Demie), who’s between 16 and 18, takes Stevie, who’s between 11 and 13, to have sex with her. Depending on the age gap, this could be considered statutory rape and at the very least predatory. But Stevie’s reaction to this isn’t what you’d expect of a victim. Rather he proclaims to have enjoyed it and brags to his friends about it. His friends, of course, praise him for his loss of innocence. It’s unclear whether or not this was a glorification of sexual abuse or an honest portrayal of it. Since there is really no directorial voice in this film it leaves viewers to come up with their own opinions.
Viewers are ultimately going to take away what they want from the film. This is due in part to how voiceless it is. There is very little manipulation in as far as making one of the characters the voice of reason (or the writer). This movie can be seen as a promotion for drugs, nihilism, and misogyny, or it can be seen as a daring portrayal of adolescence and its dangers. For some this ambiguity is frustrating, but the only way to find out if you’ll enjoy it is by watching it yourself.