Pete Davidson’s character Zeke in Jason Orley’s “Big Time Adolescence” is this generation’s Wooderson, that beloved stoner played by Matthew McConaughey in Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.” Now imagine if Linklater gave us a closer look at his character’s life. The laughs would fade, and the audience would be left feeling anything but “alright, alright, alright” as it becomes clear that Wooderson, like Zeke, doesn’t have much of a future.
On the other hand, Davidson’s future couldn’t be brighter after the “Saturday Night Live” comedian delivers a knockout performance that’s matched by co-star Griffin Gluck in the surprise comedy hit that serves up plenty of laughs from its misguided heart.
All of us probably know someone like Zeke (Pete Davidson). He’s 23, can’t seem to hold down a job, his life is filled with an endless supply of booze and drugs, and girlfriends don’t stick around for very long.
Enter Monroe, or as his friends call him, Mo (Griffin Gluck); a bright, strait-laced 16-year-old who worships the ground Zeke walks on. The two are best friends (creepy? yep), a relationship that started seven years ago when Zeke dated Mo’s sister, Kate (Emily Arlook). She wised up and dropped the immature stoner years ago, but Mo and Zeke remained friends, and it’s easy to see why. Zeke treats Mo like an adult while the teenager makes Zeke feel young. The two feed off each other’s energy.
The film begins in the present as Mo is called out of class and escorted by the school’s security guard to the office. We then flashback six years to Zeke, girlfriend Kate, and 10-year old Mo coming out of a movie. Zeke talks about becoming an actor and he demonstrates his prowess by ad libbing a scene in which he just found out his dog has died. Davidson’s timing is spot on as he overreacts bringing plenty of laughs.
The Davidson you see in the film is much different than his “Saturday Night Live” persona. He’s disciplined and working off Orley’s script which made the Black List in 2014. If any scene is ad-libbed, it doesn’t show, which marks a change of direction for the comedian who seems to be “winging-it” through SNL. Either way, Davidson delivers a strong performance that doesn’t rely on laughs at his expense. When the tone shifts halfway through the film, the laughter is replaced with heartache as Zeke’s true colors are revealed. Orley gives the character a shot at redemption which keeps the audience from abandoning Zeke, although the outcome is not what I imagined.
Like Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” the best thing to happen to teen comedies since John Hughes, the teenagers in BTA are genuine. Mo is a loner who doesn’t have any friends at school unless you count classmate Jon (Thomas Barbusca), but he’s just interested in Mo’s connection to Zeke who can buy them beer, which in turn gets them in to the latest senior party. Zeke, knowing there will be a bunch of spoiled rich kids in attendance, convinces Mo to sell them overpriced weed and soon Mo because the school’s go to drug dealer.
The supporting cast includes Sydney Sweeney (“Under the Silver Lake) as Zeke’s girlfriend Holly, Oona Laurence (“Lost Girls”) as Sophie, a high school teen and possible love interest for Mo, rapper Machine Gun Kelly plays one of Zeke’s slacker friends, and Jon Cryer plays Mo’s concerned father Rueben.
Three decades ago, Cryer portrayed one of cinema’s greatest teen characters Duckie in “Pretty in Pink.” Now he’s playing Mo’s dad and it’s a terrific performance.
“Big Time Adolescence” marks a big leap for Davidson who proves he can be funny and handle a starring role. Orley’s script walks a thin line between love and hate as the audience isn’t really sure about how they feel about Zeke. Davidson’s natural charm makes it almost impossible to hate his character even when he comes off as a self-centered and immature.
Gluck is the glue that holds the film together. The 19-year-old actor steals the spotlight from Davidson on more than one occasion with a natural performance of a teenager who realizes that his idol isn’t really that cool.