Writer/actor Johah Hill makes his feature directorial debut with this week’s Mid90s. Set in the titular time period, the movie follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a 13 year-old boy in Los Angeles who lives with his older brother and single mom. Stevie doesn’t have a close group of friends or really know who he is at the moment, which isn’t surprising for someone in their early teens.
Somehow he falls in with a group of skateboarding older kids, which leads to him skirting the boundaries of what is permissible and acceptable. It also means he’s exposed to a broader range of people than he had been before, both in terms of race and economic status. That means he’s going to learn some lessons along the way.
Stevie’s just looking at the camera on the first teaser poster, released at the same time as the first trailer. The copy “Fall. Get back up.” hints at a struggle in the story, but no further explanation is offered. Instead the poster makes a big deal out of telling the audience that Hill both wrote and directed the film.
Stevie, in the first trailer, is just a normal mid-90s kid who wants to be cool. He mimics his older brother and hangs out with a group of friends who have some questionable decision-making skills, affecting tough personas but without the actual toughness to back that up. They hang out all day and cause trouble, which inevitably has an impact on Stevie and not in a good way.
There’s no real story here other than how Stevie is trying to figure out who he is and is trying on this identity at the moment. It does look like a good representation of the slacker culture of the era, though.
The same general vibe is felt in the short second trailer, which shows how Stevie is hanging around with these skaters as part of figuring out who he is. There’s some talk about how no matter how bad your own life is there are people worse off than you, but mostly it’s about how friends don’t let you down.
Online and Social
There’s not much actually about the movie on A24’s official website, no synopsis or trailers or anything like that. Instead as you click the arrow at the bottom of the page a couple images just snap into place that present looks at some of the characters and offer some broad copy about the story. There are also links to the Twitter and Facebook profiles established by the studio.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A promo spot showed the basics of the story, focusing on how Stevie is at that point where he’s still a kid but is also growing more independent and wanting to make his own choices.
Media and Publicity
A bit after the first trailer appeared the movie was named among the additions to the Toronto Film Festival. Around that time a substantial feature profile of Hill appeared that allowed him to position the movie as a kind of career summation, encapsulating everything he’s been trying to do to date. It was later added to the Fantastic Fest lineup. Around that time a new interview with Hill ran where he talked about the influence filmmaker Spike Jonze had on the development of the story.
The movie’s screening at the New York Film Festival allowed the cast to talk about how incredible Hill was as a director while he talked more about how writing and directing – more broadly, storytelling – has always been where his heart is at.
Hill made the talk show rounds to talk about how he got his young cast, who weren’t even glimmers in era of the movie’s story, to embrace that time period, the influences he drew from for the film and more.
Well kids, we’re here. We’ve finally gotten old enough that we’re at the point of nostalgia for the 90s, something that seems very troubling to me.
That aside, the message of finding your tribe and figuring out who you are in the world is a universal one, with Hill simply choosing to set the story in a time period he’s very familiar with because he lived through it. What’s missing from the campaign is a focus on how Stevie grows from the experiences he goes through, something that might have provided a bit more focus to the message that’s offered to the audience. Lacking that this comes off like a kind of Terrence Malick-like movie filled with arty framing, soft lights and other visual affectations.
Picking Up The Spare
A Spotify playlist of songs from the era the movie takes place in is being touted as the first “Official Motion Picture Playlist.” While that may be technically true, the bigger story is that this apparently supplants a curated “album.”
Vulture interviews star Sunny Suljic. And Hill talks more here about the kinds of issues he took on in the story and covers the process behind making the movie in this profile. He also recently appeared on “Late Night.”
Hill got hands-on with promoting the movie, responding directly to fan questions and feedback. He also hosted “Saturday Night Live” a couple weeks after the movie’s release. And he was profiled as part of GQ’s “Men of the Year” roundup.