Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 13th, 2020
Big Time Adolescence (Jason Orley, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
A surprisingly affecting – and effective – coming-of-age dramedy, Jason Orley’s Big Time Adolescence follows the misadventures of teenage Mo as he struggles to free himself from the less-than-positive influence of twentysomething Zeke, his older sister’s ex-boyfriend, a ne’er-do-well stoner with zero sense of self-awareness. Longtime buds – even though sis dumped Zeke 6 years prior, as we learn in a prologue – the two are headed for some kind of confrontation, even if they fail to recognize the signs. Mo, just beginning to find himself, has a lot to lose, while Zeke gave up looking for purpose a while ago. Will Mo jettison his friend before it’s too late? Watch and see.
Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson plays Zeke, and he’s an affable loser, harmless if you don’t take him too seriously. The problem is that Mo – a very fine Griffin Gluck (Sam Ecklund on Netflix’s American Vandal) – has never stopped looking up to his childhood idol. Soon, the two hatch a plan for Mo to sell drugs and alcohol at high-school parties, which initially seems like a great idea, since it makes the boy immediately popular, though with plenty of risk. Not all of Zeke’s advice is so terrible, however, as Mo discovers when he hits it off with classmate Sophie (Oona Laurence, The Beguiled) and, following Pete’s suggestions, quickly hits it off even better. Even a fool can be right some of the time, however, and we sense this idyll, such as it is, might not last.
Writer/director Jason Orley, making his debut, has an excellent way with actors, leading them through strong, believable performances in even the most hackneyed teen-movie clichés. Fortunately, the majority of the writing rises above the mundane (though those scenes still exist), as Zeke and Mo’s relationship twists and turns through the many paths of their ill-conceived bromance. Though the subtext of all that could go wrong is serious, the film has a jaunty tone about it, including some solid jokes, that keeps the narrative moving briskly forward. If not always perfect, the film is at least almost always enjoyable.
The real discovery here, for me, is Laurence, whom I have been watching since her precocious turn in the 2015 Lamb. It was inevitable, for sure, but she has suddenly grown up. She was always interesting, but now the insecurities and self-conscious mannerisms of youth have fallen away and she has become an intriguing young adult, transforming what could be a throw-away supporting role into something more (the writing helps, as well). Though the movie is not about her own “big time adolescence,” it is certainly a showcase of her very large talent. I look forward to more.