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Review: Big Time Adolescence (2020)

Big Time Adolescence (2020)

Directed by: Jason Orley

Premise: Mo is a sixteen year old high school student (Griffin Gluck) who spends all of his free time with his twenty-three year old friend Zeke (Pete Davidson). Zeke convinces Mo to sell drugs to other high school students.

What Works: Big Time Adolescence is a coming of age tale. It’s impressively well done; the subject matter and the overall story could very easily become a preachy anti-drug sitcom special. Big Time Adolescence avoids those trappings with its management of the tone, good humor, and complex characters. The film centers upon the relationship between sixteen year old Mo, played by Griffin Gluck, and twenty-three year old Zeke, played by Pete Davidson. The unlikely friendship between Mo and Zeke is made credible; they have a brotherly rapport as Mo looks up to Zeke and Zeke enjoys the company of his younger friend. Although Zeke ultimately uses Mo for his own ends, the older guy never sees himself as a bad guy. As far as Mo and Zeke are concerned, the two of them are friends helping each other out and one of the most effective elements of Big Time Adolescence is the creeping corruption of their friendship. We observe the way Zeke uses Mo and the younger man gradually comes to realize how he’s been led astray.  Griffin Gluck is quite good in the lead role. He’s credible as a teenager and Mo isn’t a sucker but a guy who trusts his best friend. Pete Davidson has been making a name for himself playing this kind of adult adolescent character but he takes a darker turn here. Zeke is a terrible person and Davidson’s humor is the film’s secret weapon. The comedy disarms Mo and the audience, leading them to ignore Zeke’s destructiveness. Big Time Adolescence includes a romantic subplot between Mo and another high school student played by Emily Arlook. Their side story is sweet but it also gives Mo’s actions some tangible consequences. In a lesser version of this kind of story, the protagonist would smooth over his mistakes with a grand romantic gesture. That doesn’t work here which gives the film a maturity that elevates it above similar stories.  

What Doesn’t: Big Time Adolescence has a credibility problem in the ending. It’s obvious from the very first scene that Mo’s drug dealing will get him into legal trouble. But when that finally happens the consequences aren’t very severe; trafficking Schedule I narcotics is a federal crime and even though Mo is a minor he ought to face more serious punishment than he receives. Also, it should be obvious to the adult characters that Mo got the drugs from Zeke so it’s a surprise that law enforcement never comes after him. These are ultimately minor credibility problems and the movie has enough going on that it is able to overcome them.

DVD extras: Currently available on Hulu.

Bottom Line: Big Time Adolescence is an above average coming-of-age story. The likable and complex characters face some real moments and the filmmakers elevate familiar material with humanity and nuance. 

Episode: #833 (January 3, 2021)