Jonah Hill Achieves Cult Status with Directorial Debut 'Mid90s'
It seems strange to predict that a movie will have a second life as a cult classic on some streaming service long into the future, when it's only been in limited theaters for a couple weeks, but it's a fate I can almost guarantee for Mid90s. Jonah Hill's directorial debut has all the makings of a movie nobody will see on the big screen, but is waiting to be discovered for years to come.
For one thing, it's impossibly short. With an official run time of 85 minutes that really plays at more like an hour and 15, it's basically the same length as one episode of that prestigy drama waiting right next to it on your Netflix/Hulu/Amazon queue. It gets in, introduces the viewer to the world, hooks them on its characters, takes them on short journey, and gets out. Quick and clean.
For another, it's not exactly chalk-full of breathtaking visuals or sound. The whole movie is displayed in the 4:3 square aspect ratio of VCR cassettes popular in the...well, mid-90s, and it carries an understated aesthetic consistent with its skater home-movie vibe.
Any viewer who was around 10 years old in the middle of that decade, those 5-10 years older than I am, will connect with the sights and sounds of this movie on a deep, personal level. The Nirvana music, the Walkman CD player, the oversized t-shirts and jeans.
As with any "hangout comedy," the most important part of this movie is its characters. We have to want to hang out with them! Duh. In this case I totally do. The chemistry between these young actors, who as it turns out are actually just skaters and real life friends who Hill taught how to act, is palpable. It's doubly important in this particular story, because the plot of the movie is basically one kid joining a skater gang, an animal kingdom, and jockeying for position on its proverbial food chain. We have to buy in to that hierarchy.
The short run time and chemistry between the cast left me wanting more, even wishing the concept was expanded into a multi-part limited series. The adventures of this skater gang. That's a solid benchmark for success.
But it's also indicative of the movie's shortcoming. On the surface it's at best inessential, and at worst trivial. Nothing really happens. Just like the skater videos it embodies, the movie would prefer to focus on the fun rather than the danger.
The thing is, under the surface Mid90s actually has a lot to say. The following are a list of themes either explicity shown or alluded to throughout: teenage sexuality, bullying, child abuse, drug abuse, under age drinking, poverty, drunk driving. We see these things, feel their impact on the characters, suffer with them emotionally. It's powerful. However, the commitment to the vérité style of the film could hold back the more passive moviegoer from experiencing the depth of the film. Basically if the adolescent characters aren't ready to face their issues, then we don't get to see it either.
Isn't that the makings of a great streaming movie though? Those that want to come for the vibe and the laughs, of which there are plenty, can have a perfectly enjoyable experience doing so. Those that want to read a bit deeper, perhaps even explore their own childhood trauma in identification with one or more characters, can do that also.
Who would've guessed Jonah Hill would create a ready-made cult classic on his first try?
Dazed and Confused (1993)
It's unfortunate that this movie is only remembered for three words. Well, more specifically, one word repeated three times. "Alright, alright, alright" says Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson in this cult classic (which is unfortunate because it's not even his best line from the movie, which goes to "I keep getting older, they stay the same age"). But nobody does hangout movies better than Richard Linklater, who has made a career out of capturing the beauty in ordinary, everyday life. This movie is infinitely watchable, and creates a world of high schoolers in the 1970s that you just want to live inside of forever.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Everyone has memories of summer camp as a kid. Some good, some bad, all fleeting. It's a nostalgic backdrop that serves more as as jumping off point for this movie, which stumbled upon an absolutely staggering cast of actors in their first or second roles on screen: Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, H. Jon Benjamin. Their chemistry is undeniable, and has retroactively timestamped this movie as a piece of film history.
What starts out as quirky and relatable quickly becomes ridiculous and satirical, before it descends into becoming downright outrageous. If you follow along for the journey, there are plenty of uncontrollable "why am I laughing so hard at this?" laughs to be had.