R, for a lot of stuff. Jonah Hill wrote and directed it. The language is over the top vulgar. It's so vulgar that a main character's name is a combination of curse words. A kid has a sexual experience with an older girl. While we don't see it, we really don't need to see it because it is described pretty intensely. There's a pretty traumatic car crash. The protagonist gets hurt pretty badly often. I mean, it's a solid R and it should be.
DIRECTOR: Jonah Hill
A break from the Academy Award nominations. I honestly thought that this would get a nod somewhere from the Academy. It wasn't. Apparently, a lot of people didn't really like this movie. But it is such a weird thematic tie to Minding the Gap. Like, please, read my analysis of Minding the Gap and you'll see that I'm covering a lot of the same stuff. But mid90s is a far more impressive movie than a lot of people are giving it credit for.
I can see why it isn't knocking people's socks off. It hits a lot of the same beats that coming-of-age movies really touch upon. We have this younger outsider bonding with older kids. The older kids give him a sense of self and ownership. But at the same time, he is learning terrible lessons that makes us question whether or not his life is better or what. I get the vibe that this continues a lot of what Dazed and Confused offers. Stevie is this extremely sympathetic character. Living with Ian is the worst. He's absolute garbage and uses Stevie as a way to overcome his own inadequacies. We've seen this dynamic before. But Stevie is physically tiny compared to everyone else in this movie. It's actually amazing to see this short little guy being able to rip a character apart and really believe it. Ian, this personification of violence and abuse, at one point, is ripped apart by Stevie. In A Christmas Story, there's the scene where Ralphie rips apart the bully. That moment is false. Instead, Hill crafts this character into a believable arc. That's where I think mid90s really succeeds. I mentioned that we have had this story before, but it always kind of works as a lightswitch. Rather, Stevie goes from this dorky kid to a dorky kid who knows how to handle himself. Part of it comes from the fact that he always kind of sucks at what he does, but he is desperate to get away from his old life. I was bullied as a kid and I know that when I tried changing my personality when I went to high school, I was still a dork. Luckily, my dorky personality was able to transition to a confident dork and that had some degree of appeal. Stevie never really stops being Stevie and I absolutely adore that. We see this nice kid disappear. That's something that is very clear throughout the film. It's heartbreaking seeing him disappear and become one of these burnouts.
There's an interesting narrative being woven throughout mid90s. It's not perfect, but I like what Hill is attempting. Hill creates two characters who are two sides of the same coin. FS (you know who I'm talking about) is the archetypal burnout. He lives life to get drunk and to get high. He has no aspirations outside of doing this for the rest of his life. He's the worst, but he's likable for the most of the movie. That's the point. I want to hang out of FS. Okay, I don't. I don't have that personality and I write a film blog. But I hypothetically would want to hang out with FS if I was Stevie. But then there's Ray. Ray is the kid with balance. He enjoys himself. He loves skateboard. He even enjoys partying and drinking. But he has plans to become a professional skateboarder. When FS takes things too far, Ray is the guy who knows when to stop. We're supposed to really bond with Ray. Ray is the heroic character for Stevie. But the thing is that Ray never really takes a stand. I don't think that this is on Ray's radar. Ray keeps seeing FS make poor decisions, especially the most insane part of the movie, and never really stops him. Ray is supposed to be this strong, independent character; someone who isn't affected by strong personalities. But he keeps seeing evil around him. I kind of want to look at this. If Ray is the good character that we latch onto, why is he okay with these moments? The entire movie is about not talking. I want to say that reality isn't about confrontation. But sometimes it is. The idea that Ray might say something to FS is realistic. There's a moment where FS gets humiliated while drunk. Ray speaks out when his own interests are at stake. Ray didn't like how FS made him look, so he spoke up. But FS influences Stevie a lot throughout the film. Ray knows how Stevie's mom feels about the whole thing. We're supposed to respect Ray because he respects Stevie's mom to her face. But that's such a small moment. If he really acted respectfully, he would watch out for Stevie. I don't know why this leap isn't made. Maybe it's so it doesn't become a family film and still has that edge. But the movie kind of wants to have its cake and eat it too.
mid90s is charming for a few reasons, but I like how it treats its tertiary characters. In the group, Ruben and Fourth Grade are possibly the most well developed side characters I've seen in film. Part of that comes from the themes of the story. Everyone has a story and mid90s tells that narrative really well. Ruben is perhaps the more obvious of the two characters. From moment one, we kind of get that Ruben isn't thrilled that Stevie is there. Ruben's character kind of rides the line between being a unique character and being a bit of an archetype. I have to give the points to the actor, Gio Galicia. Galicia has given what could be a pretty standard character and made him sympathetic. There are these small reactions that let us know what the character is going through. He doesn't really telegraph. Instead, he seems to be in the moment. His journey is the one of getting ignored. He is this parallel to Stevie. Stevie is this invasive creature to the group. He was special once and that quickly fades. But Ruben causes his own downfall. He reads these small slights as major attacks on his character and it's this tragedy that builds out of these choices. I ache for Ruben. When we discover Ruben's background, it is this major moment that doesn't really feel like a major moment. It adds to an already complex backstory. Don't get me wrong. It is really necessary to developing his character. But his character adds to the themes of the movie. Everyone is ignored unless you choose to make yourself not ignored. It's a heck of a thing. But then there's the surprise of Fourth Grade. Fourth Grade is a dangerous character to have in a film. He seems to be wildly flat. To make him round in the last minute in the movie can be extremely cornball. Fourth Grade kind of toes that line. But having Fourth Grade as a peer to Stevie is fun. Stevie is faking everything. He pretends to be confident throughout. The same thing is true about Fourth Grade. Both of those guys are the group's charity case. They can dunk on Fourth Grade and Stevie all day and they are just happy to be there. Having the camera there the entire time is a great Chekhov's gun. We keep seeing this camera to the point where it gets to be part of the background. I mean, if I was a filmmaker, of course I would see what was on that camera. It almost seems cliche as I write this. But I wasn't ready for that video when it showed up. This goes, again, to Hill. We all are ready to see that movie, but it doesn't show up when we think it will. Instead, it showed up at the emotionally vulnerable time. It's a phenomenal decision and that video is heartwarming. Yeah, Stevie shouldn't hang out with these guys. He's making terrible choices. But it is nice to remind ourselves that these guys are just kids who like to hang out. For all of their vices and all of their poor decision making, they actually are nice guys from time-to-time. It works really well.
I don't really know why people didn't love this movie. It seems like the Academy Awards are all about movies that have already been made before this year. But, if I had to make a decision why it didn't get picked, I would have to say that this movie was too generic. Everything else was generic too. Yeah, the beginning of the movie really kept referencing the year it was made. It was obsessed with a lot of the fads of the '90s at times. But Hill moves past that. I think that the movie had to be '90s so it could mirror Jonah Hill's past. But it just creates a cool aesthetic. I don't know. Maybe that's what people have a problem with is that it is playing too hard into nostalgia. It is an odd choice to name the movie based on the setting. I'm not saying it's a crime. I just think that it works and we should get over it and watch it as a film. It is a much better movie than people make it out to be. Yeah, it's not amazingly special because we've heard this story before. But it is that story told extremely well with absolutely phenomenal performances and aesthetics. Even though I'm constantly talking about the Academy Awards right now, maybe give this one a shot before you forget about it. It's a good movie that has some real meat to it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.