Midway through Big Time Adolescence, a charming coming-of-age film starring a platinum blonde Pete Davidson, two boys enter a contemporary art museum. Of the two dudes, the more conspicuous is 23-year-old screw-up Zeke (Davidson), who’s accompanied by his teenage sidekick, Mo (Griffin Gluck). They’re staring at a modern painting, trying to puzzle out its meaning. It looks like “scribbles and dicks on a blank canvas,” offers Mo. “That’s kind of what life is,” Zeke replies, “scribbles and dicks in a void.”
Written and directed by Jason Orley and produced by Davidson, Big Time Adolescence is a satisfying, if standard story of white, suburban adolescence. The movie presents us with plenty of dicks—you could say that Davidson’s Big Dick Energy provides the story’s chief pleasures and axis point—but the film doesn’t spend too much time scribbling. It colors right inside ready-drawn coming-of-age lines.
The film’s biggest draw is Davidson, who, as lazy, zany Zeke, shines center stage. It’s a relief to see the comedian give such a natural performance given his rollercoaster year, beginning, of course, with a “lit” engagement to Ariana Grande and ending with a troubling, suicidal Instagram post. In six short months, the 25-year-old SNL star—one of the youngest in the show’s history—went from funny-looking comedian to mainstream tabloid VIP. Davidson has always been a strong actor—his recent turn as the witty gay roommate in Set It Up was a side-story gem—but with Big Time Adolescence Davidson proves his chops and begins 2019 with a running start.
In the film’s opening sequence, we flash back to Zeke and Mo at the beginning of their relationship. A teenage Zeke is dating Mo’s older sister, and as the high school duo totes the miniature Mo around on their dates, Zeke begins to enact the role of big brother. In voiceover, Mo ticks off all of the things that make Zeke cool: he takes Mo out, lets him drink beer, shows him photos of naked women. For Mo, Zeke is both a trusted adviser and an embodiment of worldly virile adulthood.
Flash forward six years and Zeke is still in high school mode. He’s a college dropout, works at a place called Refrigeratorville, and lives in an inherited apartment-cum-man cave. And while Mo’s sister has grown out of Zeke’s nonstarter routine, having moved in with a strait-laced guy in a ritzy apartment, a 16-year-old Mo is still under Zeke’s spell.
Zeke is a classic bad influence: distracting Mo from studying, supplying him with drugs and booze, urging him to snub the girl he likes in order to bait her. When he finds out that Mo is struggling on the baseball team, Zeke advises him to crouch low and let the pitches glide above his shoulders—that way, Mo can take a walk rather than trying for a hit. Skating through life with the least amount of effort possible, Zeke is the sort of lackadaisical player who would never risk swinging the bat if he could scheme a recreational walk instead.
Outside of Zeke’s sequences, Mo’s story hews closely to familiar high school tropes. There’s a Pimps and Hoes-themed senior party to which Mo manages to score an invite, and a cute girl in class he asks out. His parents are attentive and appropriately anxious about Mo’s well-being, especially considering the amount time he spends with the wacky stoner they were relieved to see their daughter abandon. In fitting male-centric movie fashion, Mo’s dad (Jon Cryer) takes the parental reins trying to steer his son back on track with repeated pleas that Mo keep away from Zeke, and vice versa. At one point, Mo’s dad actually rewards Zeke with money after they hang out; that way, he believes, their relationship will feel more like babysitting and less like a life-failure apprenticeship.
The movie clips along rhythmically, filling its polished 90 minutes with authentic teen spirit, mostly the relatable push and pull between glossy adulthood and reckless boyhood. Mo is the hero of this story, and as his life spins more and more seriously out of control, he begins to grow wary of the unchangeably-madcap Zeke. In this world, Zeke is a one-dimensional avatar of immaturity: the sinking dud who pulls you down when you need to grow up. Still, it’s Davidson who steals and carries the film, and it’s a shame that Zeke is flat enough to be that easily expendable—Davidson is anything but.