“Mid90s” (MA) ** and a half
THE core of Jonah Hill’s directing debut is 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a pretty boy, small of stature, whose family comprising single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) is disconnected enough for Stevie to be able to run wild in Los Angeles during the mid-1990s.
Hill also wrote the screenplay for this relatively short (85 minutes) coming-of-age drama that pulls no punches in painting an unflattering portrait of undisciplined juveniles whose lives revolve around skateboarding, smoking, fighting and being members of a gang.
It’s the first acting role for most of its predominantly young characters who form an impressive cadre in a story suggesting that the local police have either written the gang off as intractable or been too busy dealing with adult matters to notice them.
The story unfolds in an area of the city that Hollywood’s movie colony probably wishes was not there. Poverty rules. Morality is slack. The gang erodes Dabney’s attempts to raise her sons to be upright citizens.
Stevie is a victim of unfortunate circumstances not of his or his family’s making. As the film develops, we come to feel concern about where it is taking him.
The destination at which Hill’s screenplay wants him to arrive is mildly optimistic, without resolving underlying causes. Its essential intention appears to be to sound a warning, to make a plea for community action, to deal with a social infection belying the impression of itself that Hollywood would like the world to think it delivers.