Film Review: ‘Big Time Adolescence’ Leaves A Bitter Aftertaste
Big Time Adolescence is a cut above the average coming-of-age story — but only by a sliver. Jason Orley’s directorial debut is tightly constructed and keenly observed, but ultimately doesn’t ring true. An original, unexpectedly endearing scenario is unnecessarily beefed up with tired tropes and unrealistic hijinks. What could have been a winning character study about male friendship becomes Superbad with less laughs. It does have one ace up its sleeve, however, and that’s a moving performance from Pete Davidson.
The comedian shines as Zeke, an aimless dude with a passion for video games and weed. He becomes a de facto mentor to Mo, his girlfriend’s younger brother, and they remain friends long after the breakup. In Mo’s eyes, Zeke is the epitome of cool and he blindly goes along with every suggestion without a second thought. Navigating the choppy waters of puberty with the help of a deadbeat stoner might not seem wise, but Zeke’s heart is generally in the right place. That is until the opportunity to make some money arises.
Using his much-older BBF as a connect, Mo unwittingly becomes the school drug dealer — bringing weed and then other goodies to high school parties. At one of these, he meets a girl, becomes smitten and starts seeing his role model through her not-nearly-as-impressed eyes. What starts out as a fairly realistic representation of teen misbehavior quickly veers into something else entirely as police detectives become involved, parents intervene and hormones run wild. (The scene where Mo loses his virginity to an adult is as creepy as it is improbable).
When the shit hits the fan, Zeke and Mo’s bromance ends. The teen gets his life together and washes Zeke from his memory until an unexpected encounter at a local restaurant. The implication is clear. Zeke is a loser, who is never going to amount to anything. Which feels punitive. Sure, the guy is a mess — but he’s 23 and making an honest living. Zeke might be all talk and no action — that screenplay joke falls flat — but he still has the audacity to dream big. Holding him up as some kind of human cautionary tale feels unjust.
Davidson deserves a lot of credit for bringing the role to life. As the film’s antihero, he is equal parts endearing and irritating, but never cruel or dismissive. It’s a moving performance that reveals a natural knack for conveying emotion — be it self loathing or loneliness — with a toothy grin or furtive look. The wonderfully-named Griffin Gluck impresses as Mo, while Oona Laurence deserves praise for fleshing out Sophie, the film’s only three-dimensional female character. Colson Baker (AKA Machine Gun Kelly) also makes a cameo.
Big Time Adolescence isn’t worth a trip to the cinema, but it is an enjoyable enough way to spend 90 minutes on Hulu. The film premieres on the streaming service on March 20.