While Judd Apatow’s King of Staten Island is often considered Pete Davidson’s biggest film of 2020, 2020 was also the year that Jason Orley’s film, Big Time Adolescence had a wide release on Hulu after becoming a success at Sundance in 2019. Big Time Adolescence follows the coming of age story of Mo (Griffin Gluck) and his friendship with his older sister’s slacker ex boyfriend, Zeke (Pete Davidson). The two have a Batman and Robin type friendship even though Mo describes it more as “Batman and Batman’s fucked up older friend”.
Similarly to Jonah Hill’s Mid90s, Big Time Adolescence is really about the friendship of a young kid trying to fit in and connect with the “cooler” older guys and how impressionable teenagers often idealize the flawed male role models in their life. Mo and Zeke influence one another, with Mo always trying to be on Zeke’s level in terms of partying and risky behavior and with Zeke vicariously reliving his teenage years through Mo. In one of the funniest scenes of the film, Zeke gives Mo a “Tongue Daddy” tattoo which results in Mo’s father (Jon Cryer) discovering his son’s ridiculous tattoo. It is as if Zeke needs to grow up, but Mo keeps him wanting to remain a dumb teenager and Mo has to grow up eventually, but hanging around with Zeke is stagnating him. This is a strong theme of the film and differentiates it from many other coming of age films.
Pete Davidson’s and Griffin Gluck’s onscreen chemistry is one of the greatest parts of the film. Davidson never hogs the spotlight from Gluck and the two play off each other like brothers with playful energy and the right amount of heart needed for the more emotionally intimate scenes. The most entertaining scenes of the film by far are the two with Zeke’s friend (Machine Gun Kelly) and Zeke’s girlfriend (Sydney Sweeney) just hanging out at Zeke’s fraternity-esque home drinking awful mixed drinks or at the bar that always lets Mo in. These hang out scenes really let us into their world seeing both how it appeals to the young Mo and how it is becoming repetitive to the older Zeke. They’re breezy and lowkey, emulating a fly on the wall energy of just watching a group of friends hang out and joke around.
While Gluck and Davidson shine in the lead roles, the rest of the cast also delivers strong performances, especially Cryer as Mo’s father, Reuben, who once saw Zeke as just a nuisance is growing to see him as more of a bad influence on Mo. As the film progresses, Reuben grows not only more concerned of Mo’s relationship with Zeke, but more jealous of how close they are and how he can’t connect to Mo on the same level. Another stand out performance is Emily Arlook as Kate, Mo’s sister and Zeke’s ex, who is better off without Zeke living a more traditionally grown up life with a fiance and good job. Her character, being the same age as Zeke, offers a haunting look of where he should be in life while the young Mo offers a look of where Zeke really is, still living like he is the sixteen-year-old that Kate once dated. The themes of early twenties stagnation and of teenagers unknowingly idolizing this lifestyle works beautifully in the film and rings true for anyone who was at that point in their life or is currently at that point in their life.
The second half of the film, which mainly focuses on Mo selling Zeke’s drugs at high school parties, has many funny moments—mainly in how Mo tricks rich kids into overpaying for drugs—but is not as strong as the more lowkey scenes of the films. While this plot is meant to create a more traditional narrative to the film and further show how Zeke is unknowingly putting Mo in danger, it doesn’t land quite as hard as the other subplots until the film’s final moments.
Big Time Adolescence could have easily just been a vehicle to show off the quirky fun of the popular Pete Davidson, but it instead challenges its characters and thus the audience who sees themselves in them. Many of the characters offer a dynamic look at the themes of growing up and idolization without ever being preachy. Despite the rockiness of the drug dealing subplot, the charming Big Time Adolescence offers a heartfelt and humorous look at the different variations of coming of age—whether that be of a sixteen year old on the verge of adulthood or a twenty- three-year-old stoner caught in stagnation.