PARK CITY – Pete Davidson turned his world upside down when he started dating and, for a short time, became engaged to pop superstar Ariana Grande almost a year ago. Davison probably hates this mention in the first paragraph in a review of his new film, “Big Time Adolescence,” but the point is that because of that tabloid mess his talent has sort of been forgotten over the past year. There is a reason he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” at the unheard of age of 20, however, and it wasn’t his goofy smile. Now, at the ripe old age of 25, he finally has a movie role that showcases those comedic talents to the world at large.
The final selection of the U.S. Drama Competition to screen at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, writer and director Jason Orley’s ‘Big Time’ is a familiar coming of age story with genre tropes you’ve seen for decades. Mo (Griffin Gluck, fine), is a 16-year-old suburban kid whose best friend just happens to be the significantly older Zeke (Pete Davidson, great), a 23-year-old who dated Mo’s sister Kate (Emily Arlook, fine) back when they were both in High School. Mo has always looked up to the charismatic Zeke and, in theory, considers him his best friend. This doesn’t sit well with his parents, especially his father (Jon Cryer, fantastic) and with good reason. Zeke lives in an old family home that looks more like a college dorm room and is barely getting by working at a local electronic goods store. It’s obvious that Zeke is cool when you’re hanging with him at a bar, but his talk about launching a podcast and being a talk show host someday are pretty much all pipe dreams.
Despite being on the varsity baseball team as a junior, Mo has few friends at school (a bit of a logic gap there, but whatever). He’s infatuated with Sophie, (Oona Lawrence, talented), a classmate who sees how toxic his relationship with Zeke is even if MO doesn’t. Oh, right. So, after Jon (Thomas Barbusca, makes it work), a fellow Junior dying to be with the cool kids, learns of Mo and Zeke’s friendship and he recruits Mo to have his of legal age buddy buy alcohol for a Senior class party. Before long, the still naive Mo has been drafted by Zeke to sell pot and other drugs to his classmates every weekend. That can’t end well, can it?
Orley’s script is most entertaining when it allows Zeke and Mo to hang. Often this includes some of Zeke’s entourage including his girlfriend, Holly (Sydney Sweeney, pops), who all of the women in the movie is significantly smarter than the men surrounding them (it would also be remiss of us to not acknowledge the genuinely funny performance by none other than Machine Gun Kelly as one of Zeke’s loser friends). It becomes more predictable anytime Zeke is off the screen. This is almost entirely thanks to Davidson who somehow improvised a significant number of his lines and gave his character an unexpected child-like, innocent depth at the same time. Again, Davidson is often hilarious, and that forces Gluck to serve as the “straight man” for his retorts. That makes it hard to really care for Mo’s eventual plight.
Unfortunately, there is little else of consequence in the film. Orley wants there to be repercussions for Mo’s actions, and the picture doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but it also doesn’t provide enough backstory to why Zeke has failed to grow in the first place. Orley’s direction is fine, and the picture is well made for a low budget indie, but Davidson is all you’ll really remember when you leave the theater. And for many, that’ll be enough. [B-]