Growing up is about learning from your mistakes. Part of that process is, of course, making those mistakes in the first place. The new movie Big Time Adolescence leans into this aspect of the coming of age story with a surprising amount of effectiveness. On the surface, this Sundance Film Festival alumni appeared like an independent vehicle for Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson. Instead, it’s more than that, deftly mixing comedy and drama to tell a rather impactful story. Moreover, it showcases some solid chops from Davidson, making his upcoming starring vehicle from Judd Apatow something to really look forward to.
In true teen comedy tradition, this is about the influence on a good kid that a “bad” one has. It just happens to zig when it otherwise might have zagged. Mo (Griffin Gluck) has always looked up to Zeke (Davidson), going back to when he was just a pre-teen and Zeke was dating Mo’s older sister Kate (Emily Arlook). Now sixteen years old, Mo has become best friends with Zeke, who has emerged as a destructive influence. A college dropout and stoner, he mostly just hangs around, never giving a damn about much, to the consternation of his new girlfriend Holly (Sydney Sweeney). Despite Mo’s dad Reuben (Jon Cryer) trying to steer him away, Mo is a constant presence at Zeke’s house. However, between the iffy advice Zeke gives him about Sophie (Oona Laurence), the girl he likes, and the light drug dealing he’s gotten them into, Mo is beginning to wonder if he’s too blindly devoted to Zeke. Jason Orley writes and directs, with cinematography by Andrew Huebscher. Zachary Dawes and Nick Sena handle the music. Supporting players include Machine Gun Kelly, Brielle Barbusca, Thomas Barbusca, and more.
Pete Davidson digs deep for a turn here that’s unlike anything you’ve seen from him before. He’s best in show, though the entire cast is terrific. Jon Cryer has a scene that’s the best work he’s ever done, while Griffin Gluck brings a low key charm to his protagonist. Oona Laurence and Sydney Sweeney are two up and coming actresses who leave lasting impressions as well. The casting for the flick is spot on. Moreover, filmmaker Jason Orley allows them to largely sound like real people. There are minimal cliches, and he even leans in to a realistic and somewhat dour ending, making this more of a dramedy than a straight up comedy.
Big Time Adolescence actually embraces the realism of its situation. Orley doesn’t give his characters any easy outs. They screw up, and when they do, there’s a lasting impact. Every major (and most of the minor) characters make mistakes that will stay with them. That’s life. The final scene, and even the final shot, leaves two characters alone, both potentially stuck in their ruts. It’s a bold choice for a movie that early on is mostly concerned with chuckles. Orley goes deeper than that, however, and the final product is much better off as a result. A happier ending might have meant more financial success here, but instead, we just have a higher quality picture, overall.
This weekend, Big Time Adolescence offers up something different. An indie that zigs where other coming of age stories would zag, it’s more than just a showcase for Davidson (which it also proves effective at being). Jason Orley has a unique take on this story that makes whatever he chooses to do next something to really watch out for. The movie hits theaters on Friday, with Hulu getting it next Friday for streaming. Make sure you give it a look. This flick is quality stuff.
Be sure to check out Big Time Adolescence, in select theaters tomorrow, and streaming on Hulu next week!
(Photos courtesy of NEON)