A seemingly bright and mostly innocent 16-year-old named Monroe “Mo” Harris (Griffin Gluck) attempts to navigate high school under the guidance of his best friend Zeke (Pete Davidson), an unmotivated-yet-charismatic college dropout. Although Zeke genuinely cares about Mo, things start to go awry as he teaches nontraditional life lessons in drug dealing, partying, and dating, while Mo’s well-meaning dad (Jon Cryer) tries to step in and take back the reins of his son’s upbringing.
Jason Orley’s Big Time Adolescence is not only one of the finest coming-of-age films you can find in recent years, but is an extremely impressive directorial debut. With his first feature, he shows an incredible amount of skill and directs this film in a warm and inviting way, while also feeling greatly depressing and cold, but in all the best ways.
It’s probably not a stretch to say that a lot of people enjoy coming-of-age movies, myself included. Just recently, I was able to catch the excellent Brett Haley-directed All the Bright Places, and was delighted to see yet another great film in the genre. It’s always a treat to watch one of these movies, as a ton of them are relatable to me. Especially the characters. And while I can’t really say that I related to Griffin Gluck’s Mo in Big Time Adolescence, I still appreciated and enjoyed watching his journey unfold before my eyes and see his character arc develop.
This is a movie that has something profoundly important to say and it says it in a raw and powerful way. The film mostly plays out like a comedy-drama, about a kid that looks up to this grown man named Isaac “Zeke” Presanti (Pete Davidson) that he has known ever since he was little, and when he was dating his sister. Mo doesn’t have any friends at his school, and for years, has looked up to Zeke as his biggest influence. He is essentially Mo’s brother that he never had, and watching the bonding between Mo and Zeke was equal parts gleefully hilarious and melancholy.
At the beginning of the film, Mo is an average kid. He attends school, eats dinner with his mom and dad, hangs out with his sister, etc. He doesn’t get into any trouble with the school principal or anything like that and he doesn’t drink or do any drugs. But once he gets closer to Zeke, he starts to fall into the wrong crowd and begins to drunk and distribute drugs to other students he meets at parties.
Seeing his character go through all of these struggles was remarkably fascinating. While the story of Big Time Adolescence at its core is really nothing new and often comes off as predictable and tired, it becomes fresh due to its witty script, smart sense of direction and the character development for everybody.
By far the actor that surprised me the most here was Pete Davidson as Zeke. Perhaps best known professionally for his work on the long-running television program Saturday Night Live, Davidson hasn’t done too much in terms of film acting. Going in to this film, I was honestly worried that Davidson would not have that much acting range and would come across as bad. I was worried that I would never be able to look past Pete Davidson and see him for the character he is playing. Gratefully, that was not the case here. Davidson puts in a ton of effort into this role and is often times funny while also a bad person. You never flat out hate him, but you don’t necessarily root for him either.
For a long while, it seemed as if the film was only going to show Zeke as the “typical stoner” character with little room for development, but as the second act drew to a close, it became evident that he, too, was going to have an arc which was a delight.
Also great here is Griffin Gluck as lead protagonist Mo. He is without a doubt the character that has the most development and he is the one that the viewer can sympathize with the most. The way his story played out on screen was deeply moving and thought-provoking and also serves as a great wake-up call.
With this script comes a powerful message. It’s a story of self-discovery and trying to figure out who your real friends are and which friends are just trying to use you. And although there’s not a whole lot that’s wholly original or fresh here, it’s still a powerful and interesting tale of a misguided teen that is relevant for today.
Big Time Adolescence may not be the most original outing, but it’s still a deeply funny and surprisingly heartfelt coming-of-age story.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for drug content, alcohol use, pervasive language, and sexual references – all involving teens
Directed by: Jason Orley
Distributed by: Hulu
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Running Time: 90 minutes