Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill are tight, so it’s interesting that both of their directorial debuts, A Star is Born and Mid90s, premiered on the same night, in the same city, right after each other on Sunday. According to Jonah, they watched cuts of each others’ movies, and helped each other out through the filmmaking process. At the Mid90s world premiere earlier this week, Jonah had this to say about his buddy’s film:
“I’m all for people trying to make interesting movies. You know? And the fact that Bradley’s directorial debut isn’t a superhero film, and it’s a film that he really in his gut wanted to make, I’m just proud of him! And he watched cuts of this film along the way, and we’re really supportive of one another, and I’m just really proud of my friend.”
And Bradley has plenty of reasons to be proud of Jonah too. Mid90s is a triumph. I loved it. It’s a soulful debut, and not at all what you would expect from the title. Like Bradley’s film, Jonah’s movie got two standing ovations.
Sure, Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” is on the soundtrack, but as Jonah himself said after the premiere, this is not “nostalgia porn.” It’s universal. In fact, its name itself is a misdirect. And though the film may look like Harmony Korine’s Kids — in that it’s an indie, coming-of-age cautionary tale about sex, drugs and growing up, starring a supporting team of non-actors — it’s actually about finding family, and building a sense of community through skateboarding. Jonah does not appear on-screen in the film, even in a cameo, and says it was loosely inspired on his own experiences with skating culture and growing up in California.
Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) plays Stevie, a 13-year-old kid who is regularly beat up by his troubled older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). His single mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston, in a role originally filled by Michelle Williams, who backed out due to scheduling conflicts) isn’t around a lot, so soon Stevie befriends a group of young local skaters. They’re not super warm to him initially, but gradually he becomes entangled in their lives of drinking, parties, girls, and lots of skating. Let’s just say it’s obvious from the start that these boys are not the best influence on Stevie, as evidenced by their minor vandalism, preferred indulgences, aimless career aspirations and the fact that their nicknames sure aren’t PG-13. One of the group member’s “names” is F-cksh-t. Enough said. But this isn’t Lords of Dogtown.
Stevie fits in and finds his groove with his new group of friends, much to the chagrin of his mom. After a skating accident, she begs him to stop hanging out with those boys, but he just can’t help it. They have time for him, and she does not. They may not be the most responsible teens, but they look out for him, and want to help him with his skating and more importantly, with becoming a man.
The film goes back and forth on focusing on how the group hurts and sometimes heals Stevie’s loneliness, as he develops connections and bonds with his new family, and perhaps his first real family. Sunny is excellent here, as he plays up his innocence, isolation and maturity. Oh, and the movie is hella funny too.
That said, Jonah made certain choices when it came to representing how kids of this age and era spoke to each other in the 90s. Maybe it was authentic to his own experience, but the teens use a lot of gay slurs while getting to know one another during the first half of the film. This is language that may have been acceptable in certain places, among certain people (and still is, probably) at the time but that we do not use anymore, that is widely not condoned. It’s possible too that ignorance was a factor with these kids. It could also be a play on masculinity, and societal expectations of male friendships, like how the f-word was used in Superbad. Of course, Jonah could have changed these homophobic words, excluded them from the dialogue but since he didn’t, he leaves it up to the audience to decide – and criticise – if the film would have been as effective without the choice of language.
Comparisons between Mid90s and Lady Bird are easy, and there are quite a few of them floating around on Twitter. Like Greta Gerwig’s millennial early aught masterpiece (seriously, it’s so rewatchable), it’s set in Jonah’s hometown, and the actors wrote and directed the films, which they don’t appear in. Both films also share Lucas Hedges in common, though he does not have much to do in this one. Another connection? A24 (Room, Moonlight, The Florida Project, Spring Breakers) and super producer Scott Rudin. There’s lots of humour, dysfunctional families, and a lot of #feelings about growing up, or sexual rites of passage. And much like Lady Bird, it’s a complete breath of fresh air.
Truly, it’s my favourite film of the festival so far. Maybe not the “best,” but my favourite. And it’s so well-done. Jonah also shot the film entirely in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and there’s one scene in particular where the camera stays still and follows Ian chasing Stevie in circles around the house that’s expertly crafted.
Earlier this summer, Sarah wrote about the trailer, and that though Lainey used to refer to Jonah as the “2x Oscar nominee and friend of Leo, Scorsese, and Brange,” he’s due for a nickname change. At the premiere, Jonah gave lots of shout-outs. I think he just can’t help it. On the red carpet, he shouted out his friends at The Row (AKA Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) for the suit he was wearing and their launch into menswear, and onstage, he listed off his mentors which included everybody from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to Bennett Miller to, yes, Martin Scorsese. It’s a special movie. So, what should we call Jonah 2.0?