‘Big Time Adolescence’ lacks originality despite promising story

Actors Griffin Gluck (left) and Pete Davidson (right) star in the Hulu original as an average suburban teenager and a college dropout. | Photo courtesy of IMDb.

If you came to “Big Time Adolescence” looking for a laugh-out-loud stoner comedy featuring “Saturday Night Live’s” Pete Davidson, you came to the wrong place. 

Instead, it’s a coming-of-age film by writer-director Jason Orley, in his feature debut. The movie warns about the dangers of idolizing someone untrustworthy and giving into peer pressure. It follows Mo (Griffin Gluck), your basic high school wallflower. He blends in, doesn’t have many friends and pines after the girl who sits across from him in the classroom. He’s truly not anything special, which typically would lead me to roll my eyes and turn off the film in favor of another. His best friend, though, is a 23-year-old stoner named Zeke (Pete Davidson) who happens to be his sister’s ex-boyfriend. 

Mo is tired of being a nobody. Fortunately for him, he hears about a party going on at his school, and Zeke gives him the idea to start selling drugs to his classmates in order to gain popularity. Suddenly, Mo is the popular kid. People know him, and they want to hang out with him. (The first time he steps into a party carrying the goods in his backpack, Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” plays, which I thought was just a little too on point.) Mo’s crush, Sophie (Oona Laurence), a witty and intelligent girl, even begins to like him back. Mo continues to take more and more of Zeke’s advice until things start to fall apart, leading to an abrupt and rushed ending that is entirely predictable. 

This premise, which seemed so promising, did not deliver on the comedic front. OK, there was one moment where Davidson’s character did terribly off-key karaoke in a bar and the woman he serenaded merely deadpanned back at him that I found amusing. However, the moments meant to evoke the most laughter — such as Mo being forced to reveal his tattoo to his father that reads “TONGUE DADDY” — fell flat and lifeless, leaving me disappointed. 

The core relationship between Mo and Zeke is so unexciting that you wonder why these two people would ever choose to spend time with each another. Mo’s father, Reuben (Jon Cryer), literally asks this very question. The pairing is odd, but not in a way that’s complementary and would cause tension. It simply wasn’t contentious enough to drive the plot — Mo just thinks Zeke is cool. Mo’s idolized Zeke ever since he dated Mo’s older sister, even acting as a third-wheel on their dates. And Zeke loves the feeling of being considered cool. So the two continue to spend time with one another, but their relationship is more like a dog and his owner rather than two friends. They rarely laugh when they’re together, so it’s preposterous that we’re expected to laugh at their antics. 

They could not have cast a more perfect actor for Zeke than Davidson. I’m not sure how difficult it was for him to assume this role, as this is the persona he exudes in all of his acting, especially his recurring role as “Every Chad Ever” on Saturday Night Live. I’d love to see Davidson take on a more serious role to explore his range. On the other hand, his co-star Gluck plays a convincing high school student. He portrayed the changes in Mo’s behavior in a subtle and understated way that crept toward the conclusion instead of leaping to it, but nothing about his performance was particularly memorable. 

The message of the film wasn’t groundbreaking — not that it needed to be. It was yet another reminder not to give in to peer pressure and that you can’t make friends with people who just want something from you. But it was conveyed in the exact same way as it’s been portrayed in many other movies and shows before and did nothing to enhance or develop the message further. The addition of an unreliable guide was a welcome change, but it did little to make the message stick any more than it would have otherwise. It’s a good message, but not one that I needed “Big Time Adolescence” to tell me. 

The Hulu original is a slightly boring depiction of an unlikely friendship between a shy high school student and a 23-year-old burnout that you’re not missing out on if you don’t see. Orley has a long way to go from here, starting with deciding on an original message at the forefront of his film.