Hill has partnered with the prestigious distributor for his directorial debut.
Rising distributors A24 certainly have a type. Between the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, and the upcoming Never Goin’ Back, they sure do seem to love their coming of age movies. And the latest first-time filmmaker to jump onboard the trend is none other than Jonah Hill.
The first trailer for Hill’s feature directorial debut, Mid90s, to be released October 19th, shows an accurate 1990s aesthetic in what looks to be a mix of Lady Bird and Larry Clark’s Kids.
As with A24’s other coming of age films, this looks like a personal passion project for Hill. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a 13-year-old growing up in ’90s LA, much like the film’s director was. The trailer shows him at an important point in his life, clashing with his older brother and finding friends through his love of skateboarding.
The focus on skating is highlighted from the very beginning, as numerous skateboards make up the A24 logo. We see Stevie observing the group he later falls in with, as they hassle a storekeeper. Stevie looks on with a smile on his face, wishing to be a part of that life.
Next, we watch a bored Stevie left home alone, as his brother Ian (Lady Bird‘s Lucas Hedges) tells him to “stay out of my fucking room.” He, of course, ignores this, entering his brother’s room with a sense of childlike wonder. In a charming scene, soundtracked by Wu-Tang Clan’s “Tearz,” Stevie struggles to lift a dumbbell and looks over Ian’s vast CD collection.
His hesitation to open the door and the way he’s framed in the bedroom highlight his separation from the life he’ll later get into. Ian’s room, full of weights and hip hop posters, represents a sense of masculinity that Stevie aspires to. He then runs face-first into a wall, chased by his brother, showing their abusive relationship.
Grainy fisheye footage shows Stevie’s new lifestyle, as he finds friendship and gets into trouble. “I’ve never been in a car without someone’s mom or dad before,” he says, highlighting his remaining innocence.
Ian berates Stevie– “You think you’re pretty cool?” But as he says this, we see one of Stevie’s friends intimidating Ian. He feels threatened, asserting his dominance over his little brother where he still can, violently attacking Stevie at home.
Stevie acts out in front of his new friends, who endearingly refer to him as “fucking insane.” But there’s a clear dark side to all this, as numerous close-ups show concern and doubt on his face. Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú lány”, best known for being sampled by Kanye West, plays over the end of the trailer.
The trailer also takes a sociopolitical turn. One of Stevie’s friends tells him “A lot of the time we feel like our lives are the worst.” As he looks toward a group of people, Stevie’s told: “you wouldn’t trade your shit for their shit.” This feels like a sharp turn in the context of the trailer. Which does raise questions of how this idea will fit into the larger themes of the film.
While he has story credits on a handful of comedies, including the 21 Jump Street movies, and he has directed music videos, this will mark Hill’s first time as the sole writer/director of a feature film. Demonstrating his abilities, he’s made deliberate directing choices here. From the 4:3 aspect ratio to the fisheye footage, he clearly places the film in the eponymous time period.
Hill’s visual flair has previously been seen in the video for Danny Brown’s “Ain’t It Funny,” which presents a disturbing look at the way the suffering of drug addicts is treated as entertainment. In a sitcom setting, Brown’s pain is laughed at by a studio audience. Reflecting the horrifying way we glorify and derive enjoyment from real-life suffering. Hill utilizes intense close-ups of the studio audience’s laughing to drive this point home. And a less exaggerated version of this style would absolutely carry over into this story, as well as play into the film’s sociopolitical themes.
The cast of this movie is also solid, with a number of promising actors present here. Suljic gave a fantastic performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer last year, and his facial expressions look to be carrying this movie. And Lucas Hedges, a recent Oscar nominee known for playing softer, more sensitive characters, is almost unrecognizable here as Stevie’s violent brother.
Unfortunately absent in the trailer is the terrific Katherine Waterston, who will be playing Stevie’s mother. Waterston is replacing Michelle Williams, who left the project due to scheduling issues. The trailer leads us to believe that Ian is the one responsible for Stevie’s care, and it’s strange they’d leave the Fantastic Beasts star out of the marketing. Although this may be a deliberate choice, saving her performance for the film itself.
Regardless of her role in this, Waterston is a fantastic actor, standing out even in a lackluster movie like Alien: Covenant. For her best role check out, or rewatch, Paul Thomas Anderson’s underrated Inherent Vice. And between this and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts sequel, it’s sure to be a great year for her.
Overall the trailer shows promise for Hill’s directorial debut, even if it looks a little confused thematically. How it all comes together remains to be seen. But considering A24’s record for great coming of age movies, we’re at least in good hands.