Largely plotless, slice-of-life dramas often get described as "quiet," yet Mid90s, the largely plotless, slice-of-life drama from Jonah Hill (his first film as writer/director), is marked by violently loud moments and blaringly time-capsuled needle drops (from the Pixies to the Pharcyde). From the first scene, we witness 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) being tossed against the wall and beaten by his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). The sound design has been crafted to shock -- a smack against the chest could actually be an encyclopedia crashing against concrete.
Stevie finds his crew with local skater boys he has been observing from afar. Hill's debut has drawn a lot of comparison to the no-filter styling of director Larry Clark, and it also easily calls to mind Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park. Homophobic slurs abound; in the mid-'90s, teens weren't yet "canceling" each other for being problematic. The depictions of drug and alcohol use, sex (Stevie getting it on with an older girl) and violence (both self-inflicted and by others) are difficult to watch, as Hill brings a fly-on-the-wall candor to his depiction of youth and the film's era. But let's not forget Hill's sense of humor: Mid90s, for all its darkness, is uplifted by its hilarious moments and joyous skating shots — filmed on Super 16, set to the golden Californian soundtrack of the Mamas & the Papas. There's a final violent moment, when everything comes to a crash, filmed and staged for shattering effect, but even after that, the film suggests that Stevie will bounce back just fine -- like he's done before.