REVIEW: Big Time Adolescence [2020]

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  • Rating: R | Runtime: 91 minutes
    Release Date: March 20th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Neon / Hulu
    Director(s): Jason Orley
    Writer(s): Jason Orley

You’re my Guillermo.


Kate Harris (Emily Arlook) sums up Jason Orley‘s Big Time Adolescence perfectly when she tries to explain two simple facts to her ex-boyfriend Zeke (Pete Davidson) about his friendship with her younger brother Monroe (Griffin Gluck). The first is that Mo only hangs out with him because he wants to feel cool. When you’re a teenager with few friends who hangs out with a twenty-something that has access to alcohol and drugs, you puff out your chest in the idea that you’re somehow better than those your own age. That one was easy. Zeke probably knew that one already. Kate’s second truth, however, hits him like a punch to the gut because he wished it would never be vocalized: he hangs out with Mo to be cool too.

But of course he does. You either mature with peers your age by embracing your evolution towards adulthood or you remain stagnant in a way that ultimately forces you to reach backwards in order to retain your so-called “glory.” Mo’s excitement and devotion therefore fuels Zeke’s existence in his self-constructed purgatorial wasteland devoid of responsibilities and consequences. The lackeys who followed him in high school have realized he’s nothing but an apathetic loser coasting by on a juvenile charisma that’s no longer cute to anyone over the age of sixteen. So he holds tight to the lackey that was young enough back then to still only be sixteen when everyone else disappears. What makes this parasitic dynamic so tragic, however, is the wealth of love they share.

Mo and Zeke would do anything for each other. That’s a great thing to have in a best friend when you’re in desperate need, but an altogether horrible thing when the “doing” concerns coercive situations that breed self-destruction. And while Zeke isn’t quite the one who gets the ball rolling as far as why Mo is arrested in school at the start of the film, he is the adult. He should know better. And maybe he does. When the first senior party Mo gets into because he’s supplying beer and pot that Zeke supplied to him (for a share of the profits) proves a huge success, the elder of the pair knows enough to back off from showing his face. Mo’s a minor. He is not.

Just because Mo won’t face jail if caught, however, doesn’t mean he won’t face punishment. While Zeke—a college dropout who barely finished high school and relies on acquaintances to get what he needs in lieu of money—didn’t care about the severity of those punishments when he was underage, Mo is nothing like him. This kid does his work. He’s loved by his parents (Jon Cryer‘s Reuben and Julia Murney‘s Sherri) enough to know they worry while also giving him the space to hang with a guy like Zeke. And he’s a genuinely nice person who cares about the well being of others. Zeke doesn’t worry when people use him because he uses them right back. Mo is conversely the sole (albeit wittingly) victim here.

Orley doesn’t let us forget this fact throughout Big Time Adolescence. Even when things go haywire and lean heavily onto the humor of each situation (enjoy the absurdity of Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker‘s Nick finally realizing how young Mo actually is), the film refuses to lose its dramatic edge. There are stakes to what is happening. Mo and Zeke making money off rich kids looking to party isn’t a victimless crime and those same kids are definitely not motivated enough to protect their supplier when facing their own form of retribution. Where this sort of comedy usually steers clear of anything more serious than Mo losing the respect of the girl he likes (Oona Laurence‘s Sophie) after following Zeke’s idiotic advice, romance is the least of anyone’s worries here.

There’s an authenticity to the characters too—especially the adults. Mr. and Mrs. Harris are in the precarious position of knowing their son is good, knowing Zeke means well, and knowing their friendship will inevitably end badly for all. So they must temper their anger with the reality that it won’t solve anything. They have to fight Mo’s mistakes with love because the alternative is turning him as apathetic as the guy who reacts to break-ups with monotone pleas of “don’t go” that only solidify the soon-to-be ex-girlfriend’s decision to finally leave him behind. Pain doesn’t bounce off the back of someone with empathy. It sticks to those who aren’t selfish enough to detach from a presently unfolding tragedy as though it no longer concerns them.

That role was built for Davidson and his ability to be endearing while acting like an absolute tool. We appreciate his character’s willingness to help Mo even as he actively works to destroy his life in the process. That’s the problem with guys like Zeke. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt so deeply that the final straw can’t help packing a wallop of disappointment. Ask Reuben after he gives the boy his daughter dumped six years previously chance after chance to do right by his son. Ask Holly (Sydney Sweeney) after she laughs off Zeke’s plan to get Mo laid as a joke and not the warning flag of who her boyfriend is no matter how hard she tries to assist in his maturation.

Gluck’s innocence therefore ensures Mo becomes the perfect complement thanks to his power to push Zeke into corners where the choice to accept responsibility or be obtusely naïve to his own culpability arrives. We watch as Mo’s new friends use him, label him, and throw him to the wolves knowing they might actually like him for who he is if he gave them the chance. But that’s not how his role model did it. Zeke picked a persona and adopted it as his identity. Mo is so brainwashed into thinking it worked (seeing his friend as “cool” instead of depressingly “alone” beyond superficial connections), that he sabotages his own identity just as it was coming into its own. He gets everything he wants and still throws it away.

As we can assume from that opening scene of Mo being led out of a classroom by police officers: a lesson will be learned. But it will also be felt. Not everything will serendipitously work out. All the suffering Zeke avoided via indifference is going to smack Mo upside the head until he figures out whether a life of carefree frivolity is truly what he wants above sustained happiness. There’s a reason everyone left Zeke behind after all. And it’s not them. It may seem like a throwaway line at the time, but Nick saying he’s been hanging with Mo a year without knowing his age speaks volumes. It means Mo is Zeke’s one constant. It means Zeke has always needed Mo more than vice versa.


photography:
[1] Pete Davidson and Griffin Gluck in Big Time Adolescence (2019)
[2] Pete Davidson, Emily Arlook, and Griffin Gluck in Big Time Adolescence (2019)
[3] Pete Davidson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Omar Shariff Brunson Jr. in Big Time Adolescence (2019)

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