Sundance in Review: Big Time Adolescence

“Yeah, uh, question for Pete…you good, man?” 

Davidson chuckles and looks at his shoes as the the Big Time Adolescence panel takes an expected turn towards the star’s personal life, “Yeah dude, I’m good. Thanks.” 

The audience’s energy grows upon hearing the actor speak for the first time during the panel, a few “We love you Pete!” exclamations fill the air. 

“Oh thank you. That means a lot,” he mumbles and cracks a smirk. It’s clear Davidson wasn't looking forward to being the center of attention, and seems to be hoping it will fade fast as he takes a few steps backwards and shoves his hands in his pockets. “And now I’ll go back to just staring at the floor.” 

It’s no secret it’s been a hell of year for Pete Davidson. Davidson has always been explicit with his battle with mental health and substance abuse, but a startling and seemingly suicidal Instagram post  led to Davidson’s dramatized leave of absence on social media and overall concerns of his well-being. Leaving 2018 behind and starting 2019 with the premiere of his highly-anticipated Sundance film Big Time Adolescence, Davidson has proven he is no longer defined as a background member of the SNL cast, nor just another one of Ariana Grande’s exes; Big Time Adolescence has formed Davidson into a legitimate actor as well as an executive producer, and puts him on track to become a bona fide movie star. 

The film is competing against 16 Sundance films for “Best U.S. Drama” and has received a majority of positive reviews since premiering Monday, most of which emphasize Davidson’s performance. Produced by American High and filmed in Syracuse, Big Time Adolescence is what debut writer-director Jason Orley explains as “a John Hughes film behind a cloud of weed smoke.” 

23-year-old college dropout Zeke (Pete Davidson) takes 16-year-old Mo (Griffin Gluck) under his wing and away from a typical high school social life. Mo not only looks up to Zeke but adores him, looking at him like an older brother amid actually being his sisters ex-boyfriend. Zeke drives Mo around, lets him drink all the booze he desires, and gives him advice in the realm of both girls and baseball. The duo is harmless enough, until Zeke provides Mo with alcohol and drugs to sell at high school parties, in hopes of not only making money but boosting Mo’s popularity and love life. Mo is initially successful, even gaining the affection of classmate Sophie, whom he shares his first kiss with- Zeke gives Mo his first tattoo to celebrate the milestone. Mo continues to bring drugs to parties, overcharging his classmates and eventually gaining their respect. But, it becomes clear Zeke has put Mo in harm’s way when an investigation of the high school’s drug problem is sparked by the police, and Mo becomes a target. 

You’re probably thinking, where’s this kids’ parents? Who’s letting their son hang with this unemployed stoner? Of course, Mo’s dad (Jon Cryer) has not only confronted but pleaded with Zeke to stay on his best behavior and take care of Mo, as he is troubled by pair's close relationship. His dad even pays Zeke, implicating him as a glorified babysitter in hopes Zeke will steer Mo away from his destructive lifestyle. Cryer breaks the teen movie archetype of overprotective dad, tapping into a more complex parental role. Similarly, each character within the film is presented with depth and credibility; it’s easy to imagine each character’s life carrying on after the credits roll.  

As Zeke’s protégé, Mo thinks Zeke defines cool, but it becomes clear Zeke needs Mo to continue feeling like his cool, retired, high school self. Zeke, even oozing of vulgarity and charm, is no match for his self-destructive behavior. Mo soon realizes Zeke’s comfort in spending his days and nights drinking beer and sitting on the couch is troublesome, especially when your legacy is equivalent to your invention of themed house parties, and may be a reflection of his own future. Mo’s family becomes increasingly aggravated of Zeke's presence within Mo’s life, not understanding why Mo looks up to Zeke, but the audience knows. Though Zeke is certainly not the kind of guy you’d want your 16-year-old son hanging around or daughter dating, you’d totally grab a drink with him after seeing the film. 

Within the panel, Orley continued to cite John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as strong inspiration for the film, and Cryer chimed in he was personally a fan of Hughes’ movies because they “let teenagers speak for themselves. They were what you were thinking as a teenager, but not exactly what was coming out of your mouth.” 

“There’s a lot of Ferris Bueller in Zeke,” Orley adds. 

Davidson’s first leading role seems like a maybe-too-perfect fit for him, presenting the audience with someone they all know well: a screw up with good intentions. Davidson plays a platinum blonde version of himself, but possibly a little easier to like (Davidson has been been criticized for controversial comments and jokes). Zeke mirrors Davidson as he is rich in self-deprecating humor, even referring to himself as “hot in an ugly way, like Steve Buscemi” and paying homage to his own Hillary Clinton tattoo within the film. 

Aside from the raunchy humor, Big Time Adolescence taps into genuine sensitivity as it explores pure friendship. And hey, all respect to a comedy exploring male friendship without a single gay joke! Gluck and Davidson have unmatchable chemistry, and I’d like to think they're are hanging out while this article is being written. 

When asked how Davidson and Gluck prepared for their roles and developed such remarkable chemistry, Gluck explains, “I don’t think we did…I met you [Davidson] at the table read, we instantly clicked…we did a lot of shenanigans, and you took me onboard to your adventures.”

“I took very good care of your boy,” Davidson assures Gluck’s mother who is seated in the audience. “I know it looks like we didn't…cause we didn't. But, he’s here.” 

“The movie very much came to life on set in a way you can only imagine,” Orley concludes. 

Though the film’s story itself is satisfying, Big Time Adolescence would be a forgettable coming-of-age film without Davidson. Memorable scenes are limited to when Davidson’s lanky presence is on screen, making it clear he carries the film. Accompanying Davidson's excellence is a phenomenal directorial debut from Orley, who has claimed a place of respect in the Sundance Film Festival. His debut is one to remember: witty, well-paced, and beautifully shot. Orley also speaks highly of Davidson, explaining, “He had a bigger role in this project than just acting in it. He brought so much to the character that wasn’t in the script…it was clear from the start he was going to be a producer.” 

Though starting off just another other teen comedy, it soon becomes clear this isn’t your typical white, suburban, coming-of-age drama. Big Time Adolescence is honest, natural, and authentic beyond words. Containing many classic teen movie tropes, it pays homage to such classics rather than reproducing a tired copy of them; you may explain Big Time Adolescence as Superbad meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and many have compared Davidson’s performance to Matthew McConaughey’s iconic “Dazed & Confused” character. The film tops off with a necessary yet bittersweet ending, but we won't spoil that for you. 

Though Davidson isn’t a stranger to Utah (he told Variety, “I love Park City…the last time I was here, I was in rehab.”) we certainly hope this won’t be his last visit to the Sundance Film Festival.