Big Time Adolescence Review

Every Sundance Film Festival comes with a handful of coming-of-age narratives showing kids struggling with adolescence in a variety of ways. At Sundance, teens frequently feel like outcasts, have their hearts broken, deal with shitty parents, hang out with unique friends, find inspiration from 1980s music and movies, and learn important lessons. First-time writer/director Jason Orley falls into some of these tropes with his own coming of age comedy Big Time Adolescence, but thankfully, a pair of endearing and hilarious lead performances from teenage Griffin Gluck and comedy prodigy Pete Davidson turn the movie into a real gem.

Big Time Adolescence follows the totally chill friendship between 16-year old Monroe (or Mo, played American Vandal star Gluck) and 23-year old Zeke (Pete Davidson). So how does an awkward high school kid become friends with a directionless townie drug dealer? Zeke used to date Monroe’s sister Kate (Emily Arlook), and even though she moved on from his immature tendencies, Mo continued to look up to the high school legend and hung out with him through his most formative years. The result is two buddies who may not be close in age but have a surrogate brotherhood, mostly because Zeke is still trying to live his life like a carefree teenage kid. And that’s exactly why Mo thinks he’s still so cool.

Meanwhile, Mo’s parents (Jon Cryer and Julia Murney) are a little concerned about all the time he spends with Zeke. They’re not really privy to what goes on during their hangout sessions, otherwise they’d be even more worried. But there’s a concern that all this time Mo spends bumming around with Zeke is keeping him from a much more lucrative life path. And Big Time Adolescence firmly focuses on Mo as he must come to that realization himself, navigating that tricky middle ground between boyhood and impending manhood.

The chemistry between Griffin Gluck and Pete Davidson cannot be understated. They truly feel like best friends who have been hanging out for years. Their bond even reminded me of the kind of relationship that my high school self had with some older cousins and and college-aged family friends. The banter between them feels so genuine, and it’s full of witty exchanges and wisecracks. It’s that level of comfort that almost makes you forget that Mo really shouldn’t be listening to Zeke’s terrible advice about ignoring girls to make them like you more. And he certainly shouldn’t be selling alcohol and Zeke’s supply of drugs to his high school friends at parties, giving him a false sense of belonging when all these kids really want is to get drunk and high by any means necessary. But it all goes so well…until it doesn’t.

Zeke is the kind of dude who is so laid back that you’re worried one day he’s just going to snap at something stupid and punch Mo across the face. Big Time Adolescence never gets that dark. Instead, it opts to let the audience slowly see Zeke as a threat. He’s not dangerous to Mo in the conventional sense, but he creates a real hindrance for Mo to grow up and realize his full potential. As the veneer on Zeke starts to wear off, his charming laid back attitude soon becomes laziness. The fun times he spends drinking and smoking at home with friends (including Machine Gun Kelly in a small role) without much worry turns into a total lack of ambition. And when all that seemingly invaluable advice and cool experience blows up on Mo’s face, suddenly Zeke isn’t so legendary anymore, no matter how charming and charismatic Pete Davidson continues to be in the role.

Big Time Adolescence is full of coming of age cliches: an awkward teen romance Mo has with an endearing classmate (Oona Laurence), getting caught stoned by his parents, and debaucherous, hormone-fueled high school parties that eventually get broken up. But writer/director Jason Orley knows how to use his most valuable assets to make this familiar story shine like new in a hysterical package. We’ve all known someone like Zeke in real life, and Orley perfectly utilizes the breakthrough performances by Gluck and Davidson to bring a great level of authenticity to the proceedings. It makes you feel like you’re the one hanging out in a smoky living room, tossing back some beers with your friends. But it also reminds you that at some point, the party has to end. Adult life is waiting around the corner, but you have to be willing to get off the couch and walk around the block to get there.

Big Time Adolescence played the Sundance Film Festival, but it doesn’t have distribution yet.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10

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