Two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill is now also writer and director Jonah Hill, and his first feature, Mid90s, out on Oct. 19, shines a light on growing up, on skateboarding, and on some new young actors. Mid90s follows a kid named Stevie, who lives with a single mother and an abusive older brother, but who finds his place in the world when he starts hanging out with some older skater kids. And while everyone in the film is quite a bit older than him, Sunny Suljic, the actor who plays Stevie, is the one who carries the movies, and it’s really a standout performance.
While he’s only 13 years old — and was only 11 when the film was shot — Suljic’s resume is lengthier than many of his co-stars. He’s had a number of small roles, and also had supporting roles in 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer and this year’s The House With a Clock in Its Walls. (He also is an actual skateboarder.) But it’s in Mid90s that he gets to really show off his talents in a big way. Kid nominees are rare during award season, but Suljic should definitely be in the running this year.
A lot is asked of Suljic in Mid90s. Sometimes he has to be an innocent kid who just wants to be welcomed into a group of older skaters. Sometimes he has to be rambunctious and funny. Sometimes he has to scream at his mom while jumping all over a car seat. And, in some particularly difficult scenes, he has to take out his frustrations by harming himself with everything from a hairbrush to a video game controller. This character really runs the gamut of emotions, and Suljic is able to show all of them in a way that comes off as impressively effortless.
Hill spoke about Suljic during an interview with Jimmy Fallon and was clearly still stunned at the young star’s talent. “He’s unbelievable,” Hill said. “He was 11 when we shot the film. And I’ve never, as a 34-year-old, 15-year career, never had to do that much. Like, strap a movie to my back and walk across the field.” In another interview, with The Hollywood Reporter, Hill called Suljic, “bizarrely talented.” In that interview, Suljic had praise for his director, too. “Jonah’s a great director because he’s been acting for just such along time and he’s a talented actor,” he said. “He could understand and put himself in [a] scene and almost describe it to me how he would do it or how he sees it. So, it’s easy for me because it’s like he’s communicating as an actor, along with a friend and a director.”
But while Suljic stands out for his lead role, he’s not the only actor who is earningpraise for his performance. Three of the four guys who play Stevie’s friends had never acted before, but were cast, in part, because they’re skateboarders. Hill said on The Tonight Show that he’d always planned to let them improvise at times because things could come across more naturally, but they ended up shining with all the scripted lines, too. In particular, Na-Kel Smith has fantastic scenes as the more mature, ambitious one of the group, who becomes a mentor of sorts to Stevie.