It’s easy to write-off a coming-of-age film as being too familiar. In most ways, they all typically are because the tropes are hard to escape. A high school film, or the race-to-the-party movie, gets by simply on how entertaining it can be, while operating in previously explored terrain. What’s refreshing about Jason Orley’s “Big Time Adolescence,” is the way he brings characters to the screen and infuses them with honesty, even if we’ve seen their journey in other films before.
In his first starring role, “Saturday Night Live” performer Pete Davidson plays Zeke. He’s that ne’er-do-well character we’ve seen before: He’s 23 years old, lives in his deceased grandmother’s house, quits his job on a whim, smokes pot all day and thinks this is all an okay way to live. His best friend is Mo (Griffin Gluck), who is still in high school. Mo is a sensitive and impressionable teenager, who is put under Zeke’s strange spell. Zeke provides Mo with the wisdom he’s accrued along the way. This can only get Mo so far.
Zeke concocts the plan for Mo to start going to high school parties and sell drugs to his classmates. Zeke figures it would be a good way for Mo’s social stature to rise and they could make some money along the way. Mo is apprehensive to do so, of course, but Zeke has a way of convincing him the worst plan possible could be the best.
The beating heart of “Big Time Adolescence” is the relationship between Mo and Zeke. It can’t last but in the moment, it’s some of the best times Mo has had in his 16 years of life. He feels accepted and validated when he’s with Zeke and his friends. Mo feels he can’t get this with people his age. Orley’s screenplay really taps into what Mo sees in Zeke. The movie understands the allure of a 16 year old wanting to be friends with someone older than them. Conversely, the movie finds a way to paint Zeke as a loser but a sympathetic figure, who cares deeply for Mo, even if his advice isn’t what is best for him.
Davidson, known outside of “SNL” for his tabloid headlines, has made a strong transition into leading movies. Later this year, his semi-autobiographical “The King of Staten Island,” will come out, directed by Judd Apatow. The movie will give Davidson a chance to put his life on the screen and continue to grow as a movie star. Like Zeke, Davidson has a magnetic, offbeat charisma, and draws us into his character’s foibles. Gluck is a sensitive counter to Zeke’s large personality. Mo is along for the ride but knows the party won’t last forever. As much as he loves hanging out with Zeke, he knows Zeke is a cautionary tale.
“Big Time Adolescene” doesn’t break new ground as a coming-of-age tale but is very understanding to the characters. Mo and Zeke might appear as cookie-cutter but Orley’s screenplay is much more interested in them than what’s on the surface. That allows “Big Time Adolescence” to stand apart from movies of its kind.