Big Time Adolescence
2020, R, 90 min. Directed by Jason Orley. Starring Pete Davidson, Griffin Gluck, Jon Cryer, Emily Arlook, Julia Murney, Machine Gun Kelly, Sydney Sweeney, Oona Laurence.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 20, 2020
By now, SXSW audiences were supposed to have had their first look at Pete Davidson’s semiautobiographical collaboration with Judd Apatow, The King of Staten Island. But the festival’s cancellation due to coronavirus concerns meant that fans of the latest Saturday Night Live breakout have had to make do with his first lead dramatic role in this Hulu-backed drama. Yet even Big Time Adolescence has been affected by the disease, getting moved up on its digital platform release for a surprise day-and-date outing.
Here, he plays the definitive douchebag ex-boyfriend. Zeke was dating Kate (Arlook), the sister of high schooler Mo (Gluck), and when they broke up Mo and Zeke stayed friends. Six years later, Zeke is still a bad influence on Mo, their path of emotional carnage laid out as Mo desperately tries to imitate the ultimate burnout. Clearly an awful idea, as Zeke is the kind of guy that boasts that he invented the idea of pimps and hoes parties, and he’s seemingly using Mo as a runner for his burgeoning drug business. Dysfunction is the name of the game, as Mo looks up to this charming imbecile.
As a comedian, Davidson’s run on SNL has arguably seen him stagnate. At least here, derivative as it is, there’s a sense that he’s self-critically stretching himself, analyzing how he’s getting by on his aging dude-bro charm. He sporadically drops into some of his weaker stand-up material as the poor man’s Anthony Jeselnik, but there are moments of legitimate drama: most especially when he crosses paths with Cryer as Mo’s dad. Consistently proving that he’s an underrated talent in both comedy and drama, he seems to be the only one prepared to push Davidson to the edges (having to see off screen hogs Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher in Two And a Half Men, he knows how to defend his space). More surprising still is Machine Gun Kelly (who, after getting torched by Eminem with “Kill Shot,” might want to give the rap game up), who follows up his surprisingly sympathetic performance as Tommy Lee in Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt with an all-too-brief turn as an even-older Zeke who’s considering his life choices even harder.
There’s more than a twist of every proxy elder brother drama, most especially Matthew Lillard’s charming and underrated Fat Kid Rules the World. The question is always, when does the young kid realize that it’s not their job to be dragged down? The script by writer/director Orley, who also handles the Pete Davidson: Alive From New York Netflix special, does have the guts to embrace a tougher-than-normal inevitable crash-and-burn, but the predictability outweighs even the grimy observational tone.
Big Time Adolescence is on Hulu now.