After it premiered to mostly strong notices at Sundance in 2019, Big Time Adolescence seemed like an easy sell in theory, one of the easiest of that year’s crop of premieres: commercial, crowd-pleasing and the first major film role for a headline-grabbing comic. But it remained on the shelf for longer than expected, a full nine months before Neon and Hulu partnered for a relatively meagre $4m pickup. The lethargy was perhaps a sign of how difficult it has become to sell a big screen comedy fronted by a teen with streamers like Netflix instead becoming the go-to for a film such as this, appealing to a younger audience who have grown to reserve the multiplex for more pronounced events.
So something this slick and this charming will prove to be a warm surprise for US viewers heading to Hulu this weekend, for more than one reason. Deftly realising the public hunger to watch new films at home as a pandemic threatens to shut down cinemas, the Disney-owned platform made the decision to drop Big Time Adolescence a week earlier than anticipated, tying in with its one week theatrical window, a small, token release that now seems entirely redundant given the sure-to-be-quiet state of the box office this weekend.
Having seen the film both at its hyped festival premiere and now on the small screen, it feels far more comfortable in the latter scenario, a shaggy, low-key coming-of-age comedy that’s happily a world away from current, consuming concerns of Covid-19. It’s the story of Monroe, or Mo (Griffin Gluck), a 16-year-old whose only real friend is his sister’s ex-boyfriend Zeke (Pete Davidson), a twentysomething slacker who wears his inability to grow up as a badge of honour. As Mo is pushed to connect more others of his own age, he starts to question whether Zeke is the best friend he once thought he was.
There’s not much to Nancy Meyers assistant turned writer-director Jason Orley’s first-time feature but there’s just about enough to prove diverting as well as promising for the future, when Orley has a story that’s a bit more distinctive to tell. Big Time Adolescence is a film about stunted growth, about a man whose best years were in high school and, while not as caustic as Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s Young Adult, it shares a similarly stark view of what happens next. Zeke’s idea of cool is one that hasn’t changed since he was 16 and so him and Mo continue to gravitate towards each other in away that’s messily both good and bad for them. Good because they share a loving brotherly connection that runs deeper than the surface-level laddishness might suggest and bad because the effects of Zeke’s strident immaturity are stalling them.
The film works best when it’s studying the characters at its centre and their difficult dynamic, a fragile friendship that slowly starts to crumble with more exposure to the world around it. It’s less effective when it focuses on the specifics of the plot, a thinly etched set of circumstances involving high school parties, weed and climactic confrontations that will prove familiar to savvy audiences. Much was made of Davidson’s role at Sundance but it’s his co-star Gluck who steals the show. Davidson, an uncomfortably limited performer on Saturday Night Live, is playing a slightly exaggerated version of himself and there’s very little here to suggest that he’ll be equipped to do anything else. But Gluck, last seen in Netflix’s Tall Girl, offers a far more accomplished performance, perfecting a specific sort of self-possessed confidence that works well around certain social groups yet falters around others. He’s figuring out who he is and who he wants to be and the more he gains perspective on Zeke, he’s beginning to understand what to avoid at the risk of never fully growing up as well.
It’s a gentle, predictable film that doesn’t exactly put any steps wrong in its depiction of adolescence but Orley doesn’t quite do enough right for it to linger in the memory for longer than the credits. The big in the title is a misnomer.
Source: The Guardian