Film Review – Big Time Adolescence
Big Time Adolescence
In regard to coming of age movies, I’m currently going through a transitional phrase. Before I would completely relate to the kids, where high school was an awkward place and the balance between being your own person and being liked by others was a constant battle. Now that I’m older, married, and with a baby, I’m starting to see things through the eyes of the parents, where they’re trying to stay connected with their children as they become more and more independent. The good coming of age stories doesn’t simply depict the parents as domineering dictators, but as people that understand what their kids are going through because they were once in the same position.
The intelligence of writer/director Jason Orley’s Big Time Adolescence (2020) is in understanding that kids are allowed to be kids – to be able to make choices whether good or bad – and to learn from those experiences. In lesser films, “being a kid” often means getting to do drugs, getting drunk, and getting into trouble all in the name of “growing up.” What Orley smartly does here is show us that yes, kids can and will make mistakes, but at a certain point they will confront the line of no return. The choices they make now will shape who they will become and will inform the choices they make as adults, so it’s better to come to grips with what it means to be “responsible” now as opposed to learning it the hard way later on.
Sixteen-year-old Mo (Griffin Gluck) looks up to Zeke (Pete Davidson) a much older kid who acts as the brother Mo never had. Zeke once dated Mo’s older sister (Emily Arlook) but even after the breakup Mo and Zeke continued to hang out, going on late night drives, drinking beer, and mostly lounging around Zeke’s house. At first, this friendship doesn’t seem like too much of a big deal. However, soon Mo’s friends and family start to question if their connection is a healthy one. Mo hangs around Zeke so much that it prevents him from developing relationships with kids his own age. There’s also the added element of Zeke being a drop out, having little to no ambition, as well as the abundant alcohol and drugs scattered around Zeke’s home.
I think every high school had a “Zeke” – that one kid who was likeable and got along with everybody, but never really looked beyond what’s happening in the here and now. They did just enough to get by and was comfortable in their laziness. Their biggest goal was going home after school and completing their newest videogame. They held jobs almost as a way to break their boredom as opposed to saving up money for the future. In his role here, Pete Davidson does a good job of showing both sides of the character – the charming, funny older brother that is easy to get along with, as well as the person who’s lack of ambition and general indifference for responsibility can lead himself and others down a questionable path.
Orley’s writing has an insightful way of contrasting how Mo and Zeke’s relationship – while seemingly innocent on its own – can cause potential issues with the other aspects of Mo’s life. There is, of course, his family, with his father (Jon Cryer) becoming increasingly concerned about Mo staying out all day and coming home sometimes drunk (or even stoned). There are also the potential problems at school, where friends and even a potential love interest (Oona Laurence) have difficulty coexisting with Mo and Zeke’s camaraderie. The more Mo looks up to Zeke, the more he tries to be like him both in the way he talks and the way he dresses. Things get pushed to the limit when Mo starts selling Zeke’s drugs to local parties to gain favor among his classmates. That, obvious to say, is not a very wise decision.
The direction and camerawork (Andrew Huebscher) present the story with a gradual approach. The narrative is not plot driven, rather it captures these episodic moments that feel natural and laid back. Even when we are given scenes of silly comedy (such as Mo walking into a family gathering while high), Orley and his team never try to push for a reaction. They allow the camera to sit and have the characters play out the scenario in a realistic fashion. As a person who grew up in the suburbs, I can attest that the production crafted scenes of conversation with an authentic hand. Grocery store parking lots, fast food joints, karaoke bars, the local batting cages, etc. This is the kind of a neighborhood where hanging out in someone’s converted basement is like a vacation from the rest of the world.
Big Time Adolescence isn’t going to revolutionize the coming of age film, but it is an example of a what a good one is. It’s smart without being preachy, observant without being overbearing with its messaging. It understands that being a teenager can be confusing and awkward, but also that this phase of life is temporary, and that adulthood is right around the corner. For as much fun as Mo and Zeke have together, the final shot lets us know that this is only a brief, fleeting moment of time.