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(The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16 in, you guessed it, Toronto, Canada. Hammer to Nail has boots on the ground in the form of lead critic Chris Reed and Matt Delman. They’re excited to bring you some amazing reviews so stay tuned!)

Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s first foray into directing, is a fun ride with ample heart to go alongside the broken bones. His protagonist Stevie (Sunny Suljic) may not be Hill’s incarnation exactly, but they share a certain resilience that is admirable. Hill’s career as an actor is unavoidable to discussion of his new directorial effort. He transformed from a lovable comedic doofus into a serious actor when Scott Rudin (who also produced Mid90s) put him in Moneyball, in which he earned an Oscar nom. You can sense a similar ambition in Stevie, who goes through a parallel transformation from a polite young boy to a rebellious adolescent, shaking off every spill and keeping moving forward. The film is both boisterous and touching, and will certainly speak to a generation of millenials who grew up without cellphones.

Stevie’s first interaction is with his brother, played by a brooding Lucas Hedges, who shoves him face-first out of his room. It will be hard to keep him out. A motley crew of skateboarders near his home are equally irresistible. Stevie sidles up to them, eventually earning the attention of the youngest, Ruben (Gio Galicia). Ruben teaches him some basics about being ‘cool’ and ‘not gay’ but their friendship is quickly put on the rocks when Ruben realizes the other boys like Stevie (who they’ve nicknamed ‘Sunburn’) more than him. The competitiveness is underlined in a scene where Stevie foolishly tries to hop a gap on a roof and splats on a table below. It’s one of the most shocking moments of the film, and a turning point for the character and his ascendancy within the group.

Katherine Waterston plays Stevie’s mom, in a fully fleshed out role that works to ground the film in a normal amount of worry—something that was lacking from Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids. The Super 16mm cinematography and 4:3 aspect ratio feels fittingly lived in, and there’s a terrific sequence at the end that pays homage to 90s fish-eye skate videos. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did the score which, combined with the eclectic 90s soundtrack, adds another layer of nostalgia.

But the film is not wistful or diluted; it’s a raw experience that feels like a document of the past, which was clearly Hill’s intention. Though at times violent and filled with curse words and bad decisions, the overall note is one of joy. Stevie’s coming of age may have some bumps and bruises but he navigates them with a smile on his face. He’s just happy to be here, and we sense the same is true for Hill.

– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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