Review: Pete Davidson Channels Star Potential in Big Time Adolescence

When the world finally sets itself aright, I predict comedian and SNL cast member Pete Davidson will be poised to be a pretty big movie star. He’s had small roles in such films as Trainwreck and What Men Want, but when the life story of this stoner goofball is one day written, I think it’s his role as the stoner goofball Zeke in Big Time Adolescence that will be recognized as the turning point that marks Davidson’s transition from funny guy to funny actor. (It should be mentioned that his leading role in the semi-autobiographical, Judd Apatow-directed The King of Staten Island was set to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, and likely would have propelled him into official movie stardom.)

Image courtesy of Hulu

Zeke isn’t technically the lead of Big Time Adolescence; that honor goes to Griffin Gluck, who plays Monroe, the younger brother of Kate (Emily Arlook), who dated Zeke years earlier. Emily broke things off with the perpetually immature Zeke, but somehow the two young men stayed close and eventually became best friends. In a strange yet understandable way, the two balance each other out. Zeke is a mess, but Monroe’s more responsible behavior (instilled in him by his parents, played by Jon Cryer and Julia Mumey) brings Zeke back from the edge sometimes; inversely, Monroe gets in occasional trouble thanks to destructive guidance from Zeke.

In the present day, Monroe is 16 and Zeke is a college dropout who still sometimes sleeps with Kate but also has a girlfriend, Holly (Sydney Sweeney, Sharp Objects, Euphoria), who has a genuine affection for Monroe and his positive impact on her man. When a friend of Monroe’s uses his connection to Zeke to help supply a high school party with booze, it leads Zeke to think it might also be cool if his younger friend sold overpriced weed at the party, which he does reluctantly. But Monroe is more interested in impressing Sophie (Oona Laurence, Pete’s Dragon, The Beguiled), and with some maneuvering from Zeke, the two actually begin to have a sweet connection.

There isn’t so much a complete story in Big Time Adolescence as much as there is a series of moments in a transitional time in Monroe and Zeke’s friendship. Making his feature debut, writer/director Jason Orley (who also directed Davidson’s new Netflix stand-up special Alive from New York) has a genuine flare for capturing reckless—but not necessarily destructive—behavior. Obviously, Monroe’s pot dealing could have dire consequences, but it never feels like it’s turned him into a sleazy creature destroying kids’ lives. But it’s Davidson’s performance that will keep you glued to the screen—he’s funny, loaded with personality, and exhibits traces of emotional depth (and even hints of personal growth by the end) in his acting I did not know he was capable of hitting. He’s not exactly required to dig deep into his soul, but he does show some level of genuine remorse, pain, and regret for the way he sometimes steers Monroe down the wrong path.

Big Time Adolescence hits a few familiar notes as far as coming-of-age films and high school comedies, but if you ever had a close relationship with an older brother or friend, there might be things about the film that also ring true and strike you as humorous and honest. Hulu pushed this out onto its service a little early (it was supposed to have a limited run in theaters beginning last week), and is available on the channel now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3PcDo4YcnY

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.