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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Mid90s

“Hell Fest” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“Mid90s” is no normal coming of age story. This is fitting, because Stevie (Sunny Suljic), the thirteen year-old Los Angelino at the center of the story, is no ordinary kid.

Stevie is angsty and angry to the extreme—even for someone his age. The reasons for this are laid bare in the opening moments as his abusive jerk of an older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), who is around five years older and much bigger than Stevie, gives Stevie a pounding and warns him to stay out of his room. We get the impression that this is a typical part of Stevie’s existence.

Stevie listens as well as thirteen year-old little brothers typically do, and it is here where it is made clear that “Mid90s” does, in fact, take place in the mid-90s. As he looks through his brother’s collection of CDs, audio cassettes, VHS tapes, baseball caps, and Air Jordan high top sneakers while wearing a Colonel Guile “Street Fighter II” tee shirt (the “Ren and Stimpy” and “Beavis and Butthead” shirts come later), anyone who was young circa 1993 to 1997 will have a blast spotting all of the references. For those too old or young, know this: The nostalgia trip is well done, including another scene shortly after in which Stevie is playing Super Nintendo.

The movie takes place over the course of several months and the exact year is never mentioned, but if I had to guess I’d put it during the summer and fall of 1995. It’s at least after 1994 since at one point Ian wears a 1994 Final Four basketball shirt. There is also a scene in a restaurant with Stevie, Ian, and their mother (Katherine Waterston) in which Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” is playing. That song was big after the release of “Batman Forever” in the summer of 1995. The only strange thing is an angry shop owner who tells a group of skateboarding punks to get away from his store and tells them to go to Desert Storm. But this can be chalked up to someone talking out of anger and making a bigger point—or an uninformed person who doesn’t know the war ended four years earlier. I’m sticking with 1995.

The skateboarding punks are more than just a nuisance. They become the ones who Stevie hangs out with the most. There is Ray (Na-kel Smith), the intelligent, compassionate one who is talented enough to have a future in professional skateboarding; Ruben (Gio Galicia), who first befriends Stevie and invites him to hang out with them; Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), a quiet kid who likes recording the group’s happenings with his video camera; and one other member who name is too foul to write, played by Olan Prenatt, a SoCal surfer type with long curly blonde hair and a drug and alcohol abuse problem. All of these kids are 16-17 years old, with the exception of Ruben, who is only a year or so older than Stevie.

It’s not too long until Stevie wins everyone over, earning the nickname Sunburn and impressing them with his ability to take a very nasty fall from a roof. Of course, Stevie’s mom isn’t too happy when he returns home bloody one evening, and she really loses it when he comes home drunk and finally gives his older brother some much deserved payback.

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It is a bit disturbing to watch a thirteen year-old smoke and drink, but it’s naïve to think that it doesn’t happen. If it does happen, this is typically the age in which kids start to experiment with such things. Also, if this type of thing troubles you, then you may want to totally divert your eyes when Stevie is introduced to a girl named Estee (Alexa Demie) at a party and she shows him the joys and perks of being alone with a member of the opposite sex.

“Mid90s” is the feature length writing/directing debut of Jonah Hill, best known for his comedic acting roles in movies like “21 Jump Street” and “Get Him to the Greek.” Here, he turns a serious eye to a specific time and place, and to a troubled child who seems to be going down a dangerous path and getting in with the wrong crowd. The character of Stevie is well-developed and complex. The journey he takes is unusual, especially after a fairly predictable incident leads to a genuinely warm and heart felt ending that is not the way most movies of this sort would resolve. Some may find it abrupt, but I found it to be a sweet reminder of an adage I once heard: If you ever do something stupid and get arrested, a good friend will be there to bail you out. Your best friend will be sitting next to you in the jail cell saying, “Dude--that was freakin’ awesome.”  Rent it.

More New Releases: “Hell Fest,” in which a masked serial killer turns a horror themed amusement park into his own personal playground, with Tony Todd from the “Candyman” movies; and “The Spanish Prisoner,” Blu-Ray debut of writer-director David Mamet’s masterfully intricate and deceptive con-artist caper movie from 1997, starring Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay, Felicity Huffman, and a fantastic straight-laced performance by Steve Martin.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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