Adolescent idolization is something we’ve all been through. When I was a kid, 14-year-olds were the “cool kids” I looked up to. That was the age where, in my naive and youthful mind, everything came together: maturity, growth, and a better understanding of the world. But then, hero worship blinds us to the truth that comes to light with age. Big Time Adolescence is that rare film that conceptualizes what it’s like to look up to someone as cool as Pete Davidson’s Zeke, the seemingly charming, all-around chill guy who seems to have his life so put together with nary a care in the world.
Zeke helped shape Mo’s (Griffin Gluck) youth, for better or worse. First, as the boyfriend of his older sister and, later, as a friend Mo could be himself around. Whatever the case, Mo could always rely on Zeke to treat him like an adult instead of the child that he really is. From Mo’s perspective, Zeke is living his best life: He has a job, his own place, dates, and lives by his own rules. Of course, Zeke’s life is far less stellar than it actually is. He is stuck in the same place, irresponsible, and unwilling to take anything seriously. When he convinces Mo to start selling drugs at high school parties, things quickly spiral out of control. As Zeke’s bad influence begins to become more evident, Mo starts to realize that Zeke will never grow up and it’s an incredibly tough wake-up call.
Coming of age movies are still as important as ever. They’re often the best way to provide a lesson that everyone can relate to. Depicting it through the eyes of youth makes it all the more captivating, drawing upon our collective experiences of being young and enamored with adulthood, seeking out role models who turned out to be disappointing after the rose-colored glasses come off.
Pete Davidson is ostensibly playing himself — the nonchalant, don’t care what people say persona on full display here — and it works within the boundaries of Big Time Adolescence, believable to a fault. There is a brief moment where it seems like Zeke finally understands that he needs to reexamine his life and back off of Mo, but it isn’t long before he’s back to his old routine, seemingly unaware of its detrimental effects on others. If nothing else, Zeke is a primary example of the endless and careless cycles people can become trapped in, and may even cling to, to mask the truth lying beneath. As the polar opposite of Zeke, Griffin Gluck portrays Mo with a lot of heart, depth, and emotional nuance.
Writer and director Jason Orley effectively and genuinely captures Mo’s mindset and makes us care enough about him so that every bad decision and unwise action is brutal to watch. At every turn, the audience knows something bad is coming and watching Mo carry on with his disastrous friendship with Zeke, which further exacerbates the situation, is emotionally suspenseful. It’s akin to watching a harrowing incident unfold; it’s inevitable and painful, but you can’t look away regardless. Ultimately, that’s what makes the repercussions of Mo’s friendship with Zeke all the more impactful.