“I could be an actor.”
“You’re too ugly.”
“Yeah but in a hot way, like Steve Buscemi.” – Exchange between Pete Davidson and his girlfriend in “Big Time Adolescence.”
Thus far in Pete Davidson’s career, the comedian and “Saturday Night Live” cast member is more famous for his roller-coaster personal life than his show-business resume.
The lanky, tattoo-spangled, likable, 26-year-old Davidson has been an open book in talking about the death of his New York City firefighter father on 9/11, his struggles with depression and his high-profile romances with the likes of Ariana Grande. These experiences are mined in interviews, on “SNL” and in his stand-up.
In the quirky, indie, party comedy “Big Time Adolescence,” Davidson has a co-starring role — and while the character is about a six-inch leap from Davidson’s public persona and I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a game-changing performance, I was impressed by Davidson’s effortless, comfortable and authentic work.
We often hear how certain actors are just playing themselves. Maybe so — but that’s no easy trick. We still have to buy into the character one is playing, regardless of the real-life parallels. Davidson shows true talent in this performance.
Writer-director Jason Orley’s smart and funny coming-of-age film is like an upstate New York variation on “About a Boy,” in that it’s about an unorthodox friendship between a grown man and a school kid — and the music of the time plays an integral part. (There’s even a scene in “Big Time Adolescence” that mirrors the moment in “About a Boy” when Nicholas Hoult strides through the hallways jamming to a newly discovered tune on his headphones.)
Griffin Gluck has the look and the instant relatability factor of a John Hughes high school movie protagonist as Mo Harris, a goodnatured, slightly awkward and bright 16-year-old suburban kid who’s a bit adrift as he navigates the choppy waters of cliques and crushes and trying to be cool. (Jon Cryer, nearly 35 years after his breakout performance in the Hughes-written “Pretty in Pink,” plays Mo’s dad.)
When Mo was in elementary school, his older sister Kate (Emily Arlook) started dating Davidson’s Zeke — and Mo and Zeke became good buddies through the years.
“He took me on roller coasters, he took me to R-rated movies, he gave me a beer,” says Mo in voice-over narration that makes it clear the impressionable Mo thinks the stoner-slacker Zeke is just the coolest.
Here’s the weird part. Even after Zeke and Kate broke up, Zeke and Mo have continued to hang out, which should concern Mo’s parents more than it does, given Zeke is now 23 and Mo is 16.
Zeke is a cheerful nihilist with a barely functioning social filter and a dry, offbeat sense of humor. (At the appliance store where Zeke works, a customer asks him to recommend a microwave for her grandson’s dorm room, and Zeke replies, “Who’s your grandson?”)
Every night, Zeke parties like there’s no tomorrow with his burnout buddies (including a hilarious Machine Gun Kelly) and his current girlfriend, Holly (Sydney Sweeney) — and Mo tagging along like a little brother/mascot.
When Mo scores a coveted invite to a weekly theme party held in the basement of an upperclassman’s home (contingent upon Mo and his friend supplying the liquor, a la “Superbad”), Zeke hatches a plan to catapult Mo from wallflower to instant rock star: Mo can sell pot (and eventually other drugs), supplied by Zeke of course, to the privileged teens at inflated prices, with Mo and Zeke splitting the profits.
Just like that, Mo becomes the coolest kid at the cool-kid parties. His newfound status even gives him the confidence to pursue a romance with Sophie (Oona Laurence), a smart, self-confident, popular-without-trying-to-be-popular girl who would have been so out of his league just a few weeks ago.
Mo’s admiration for Zeke escalates to the level of hero worship, with Mo literally quoting Zeke and emulating his live-for-the-moment, consequences-be-damned, me-first philosophy.
This is a blueprint for disaster, as evidenced by the sorry state of Zeke’s life, but to the credit of Orley’s screenplay and Davidson’s smiling-devil performance as the charming but toxic Zeke, we can understand how a vulnerable teen could mistake a loser for a legend — and we’re rooting like hell for the kid to realize that mistake before it’s too late.