I think there are a lot of times when perfectly fine films are punished for feeling familiar. Big Time Adolescence isn’t breaking any barriers in its approach to the coming-of-age comedy-drama genre, but it’s efficiently handled, with enough going on with the characters to balance out the dude-bro energy limiting the amount of depth some may see with this film. There’s also enough good energy coming from Pete Davidson, who brings what is needed to his first lead role.
Really, much of this film is going to rely on how much the viewer can handle when it comes to the type of humor the Saturday Night Live star adds to any scene. Davidson plays Zeke, an aimless young man who once dated Kate (Emily Arlook), the older sister of Mo (Griffin Gluck). Kate and Zeke broke up, but Zeke and Mo enjoyed each other’s company so much that they kept hanging out. It’s important to note that this started when Mo was around 9. This movie is set during Mo’s high school days.
So, what we have is a millennial/generation z-themed buddy comedy, where writer/director Jason Orley gets the most out of a story of two guys who pal around each other, despite having a distinct difference in age. Not everyone really gets why this is happening, most notably Mo’s father played terrifically by Jon Cryer. His exacerbation is understandable, as he’s the father to a kid who would rather take advice from a tattooed stoner than a parent. Wisely, the film keeps the audience aware of Cryer being a positive voice of reason without going out of the way to villainize Zeke.
Yes, Zeke makes bad decisions, such as giving Mo drugs (mostly pot and medicine that poses as harsher stuff, as opposed to the real thing) to sell to kids at parties so Mo can have a quick route to popularity. Zeke also allows Mo to drink and smoke in his house, with the other aimless folks who slum around, including Machine Gun Kelly as a friend convinced Mo is in his 20s, and Sydney Sweeney as Zeke’s current girlfriend, who also finds Mo to be a pretty cool kid. In all of this, Zeke is never functioning as a force of chaos, necessarily, just an overgrown kid who takes no opportunity to be ambitious.
Mo is the main focus of this story, and Gluck turns in a reliable performance as a kid who has grown attached early on, making him reckon with becoming a smart young man who has to choose between being a kid with obvious potential against going down the slacker route. We know Mo is a good kid because he has the kind of smarts that make him good in school, knowing enough to recognize bad ideas (even if he goes along with them anyway), and slick enough to interact with a variety of people.
Much of the film relies on Mo’s interactions during parties thrown by his dorky friend Jon (Thomas Barbusca), who relies on Mo to bring drugs and alcohol (supplied by Zeke), ensuring his home as the place for the high school kids to be. It’s at these parties where we see Mo balance being his own charismatic self with the one influenced by Zeke. A mix of these qualities allows him to get the attention of Sophie (Oona Laurence), but it will be up to Mo to choose which side of him is the way to go if he wants to keep that relationship going.
Big Time Adolescence doesn’t exactly create high stakes for the characters, aside from possible expulsion from school. However, we get a lot of moments showing the consequences of actions. These come after moments of high comedy, allowing the cast (mainly Davidson) to do what’s needed to keep the laughs coming. The tomfoolery is enjoyable enough, as Zeke is the kind of smartass that gets by on being inherently likable for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense. By the time Cryer’s character starts trying to have meaningful talks with Zeke, we know the relationship between Zeke and Mo can only go for so long.
So, once again, is this movie that needs to be punished for making some standard decisions in its plotting? Not at all. Whatever reward it gets comes from the effort done by the filmmakers to make the film so enjoyable. In particular, there’s a solid editing rhythm of the film that called to mind Ladybird. While not as thematically rich as that character-based comedy, there’s a lot of fun to have in a movie that’s structured to get the viewer where it needs to be at any given moment, with little in the way of fat on its 90-minute runtime.
If the film is less successful in any area, it’s the mixed handling it has on the female characters. This is a movie about dudes hanging out, not unlike other recent indie flicks such as Mid90s. Coming from a male writer-director with a certain kind of concern for the leads, there’s only so much he chooses to tackle with the supporting roles. So when the film has to work in a subplot for Zeke’s girlfriend, it is distracting in how shallow it all seems, which is only marginally made up for by treating Mo’s possible new girlfriend as someone intelligent enough to know Mo is making bad choices and doesn’t need to be involved.
Still, as a launching ground for Davidson to take on more prominent roles in movies, such as his upcoming lead role in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, this is the sort of part that shows the sort of potential he has in bringing his particular brand of comic energy to a meaty role. It helps that Big Time Adolescence is often very funny. Going from mild chuckles to moments that had me laughing is enough to say the film won me over by being unassuming, yet enjoyable in its commitment to showing us this story of two guys who shouldn’t be friends, but are because they just know how to handle each other’s silliness. Sometimes that’s just enough.