Producers: Mason Novick, Glen Trotiner, Will Phelps, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon and Jeremy Garelick Director: Jason Orley Screenplay: Jason Orley Cast: Pete Davidson, Griffin Gluck, Jon Cryer, Emily Arlook, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Thomas Barbusca, Oona Lawrence, Esteban Benito, Julia Murney, Sydney Sweeney, Brielle Barbusca and Michael Devine Distributor: Neon
There isn’t much to Jason Orley’s debut feature, but there are enough good elements in the fairly predictable dramedy to make its relatively brief running-time agreeable.
“Big Time Adolescence” is a coming-of-age story in which one of the two major characters matures despite the fact that the other hasn’t. Monroe Harris (Griffin Gluck) is a sixteen-year old high-school kid, a straight-arrow type. There is, however, one aspect of his life that bothers his parents, his mother Kate (Emily Arlook) to some extent but his father Reuben (Jon Cryer) greatly. That’s his friendship with older Zeke Presenti (Pete Davidson), a twenty-three year old slacker the boy’s been devoted to ever since he was the boyfriend of his sister Sherri (Julia Murney).
She’s moved on but Monroe hasn’t. He’s constantly spending time with Zeke and equally misfit buds like Nick (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Doug (Esteban Benito), even taking his advice about how he should romance Sophie (Oona Lawrence), the classmate he’s infatuated with, even though both Sherri and Zeke’s current squeeze Holly (Sydney Sweeney) warn him that Zeke doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And Zeke enjoys having Monroe around simply because the kid considers him the essence of coolness—which, of course, nobody else does. It stokes his vulnerable ego.
Inevitably Monroe’s misplaced idolatry of Zeke has consequences more serious than the loss of a girlfriend. When classmate Jon Epstein (Thomas Barbusca) persuades him to bring some booze to get into a senior-level house party, Zeke takes the opportunity to unload some of his excess weed at high prices. He induces Monroe to serve as his salesman, assuring the kid that, being underage, he’s got nothing to worry about even if he’s caught. That turns out to be just one more example of bad advice, and the boy finally realizes that his trust in Zeke was unwise.
Gluck is likable as the nice kid in thrall to a bad influence, and Lawrence and Barbusca handle the other teen roles well. But the youngsters are outshone by Cryer, who once played roles similar to theirs and now simmers and rages effectively at the parental end of the age spectrum.
And the picture wouldn’t work at all without Davidson, who brings the bemused smirk and flippant smugness familiar from his “Saturday Night Live” segments to Zeke, who in his hands shows both the sort of laid-back charisma that might appeal to an impressionable boy and the hint of danger that would antagonize his father. He also carries off a coda that has a properly poignant air. The rest of the cast do what’s demanded of them effectively.
“Big Time Adolescence” is hardly a big-budget movie, but it’s technically more that adequate, with a convincing production design by Kathrin Eder and relatively slick cinematography by Andrew Huebscher. Waldemar Centeno’s editing keeps it moving at a good clip, and the music by Zachary Dawes and Nick Sena adds to the mood.
The trajectory of Orley’s story is far from surprising, but he and his cast handle it with enough cheekiness to make the movie a pleasant, if weightless, diversion.