Relatability and Nostalgia: Jonah Hill’s Mid90s: Actor Makes Directorial Debut Accessible to All

by Kerry Torpey on November 15, 2018

Arts & Entertainment


by Peter Keough ’20

A&E Staff

The student body at Providence College is comprised of students in the age range of approximately 18 to 23 years old, with birthdates ranging from the year 1995 to 2000. Therefore, it is safe to say that no PC students were growing up in the time period depicted in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s. However, it remains relatable to all age groups.  

Mid90s is a bildungsroman, as it shows the coming of age of the 13-year-old protagonist named Stevie. The viewers follow Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, as an adolescent in 1990s Los Angeles. The film transitions between his tough home life with his mother and older brother (Katherine Waterston and Lucas Hedges), to the unlikely friendships he builds with other skateboarding teens, played by Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, and Ryder McLaughlin. 

This movie is Hill’s inaugural piece of directorial work.  Therefore, he was adamant that it not become another piece of gimmicky, nostalgia-reliant cinema. In an interview for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where Mid90s originally premiered on Sept. 9, Hill addressed his goal for the film: “The two rules of the film was no nostalgia porn, and no skate porn.” He wanted to create something that was both authentic and respectable, but also relatable.

After viewing the film in theaters, it is safe to say that Hill achieved this balance in his final product. The visual aspects of Mid90s, from the grainy 4:3 VHS-styled cameras to the wardrobe of each character, accurately transport the viewer back to the intended time. The soundtrack plays a similar role, and was handpicked by Hill from a playlist of over 300 songs he wanted to be part of his film.

However, through the use of such a character-driven and engaging story, Hill did not have to rely only on these deliberate nostalgic choices in order to evoke a sense of sentimentality in the viewer. In the same TIFF interview, he claimed, “The idea was that if at the last minute we decided to not call this film Mid90s and put it in present day, that it would still be a valid story.” This validity is achieved through the down-to-earth narrative  around which the movie is centered. 

Nothing about the film is flashy or overdone, and it relies on its simplicity in order to reach the largest possible audience. Many people can easily relate to the childhood experience of finding a group of friends that allow you to be your truest self as well as remembering an instance where they felt accepted, dejected, or both. Mid90s appeals to these simple and familiar aspects of childhood, allowing the film to escape the trap of being simply just another nostalgia trip, and presenting itself as a truly accessible film for all.