Every small town has at least one, and cities have many more: the loser guy who can barely manage life out of high school, who takes and quits random jobs with a shrug, and yet still exerts a strange, drifty allure. Saturday Night Live regular Pete Davidson plays that very guy in Big Time Adolescence (in limited theaters and streaming on Hulu starting today), one of those small delights that’s designed mostly to make you laugh, though it ends in a place of inevitable wistfulness.
Davidson plays Zeke, an alleged grownup who lives in his deceased grandma’s house and who spends his days drinking and smoking with his small gang of loser friends. But 16-year-old Mo (Griffin Gluck, in a smart, understated performance) idolizes him. The two have been friends for years; Zeke used to date Mo’s sister, and as Mo explains in a framing voiceover, Zeke was the one person who’d treated him like an adult. The friendship has stuck, much to the dismay of Mo’s father (Jon Cryer, playing the perennial square dad in a way that’s deeply sympathetic). Mo spends all of his spare time with Zeke, and if the friendship seems merely ill-advised at first, it becomes more injurious when Zeke starts sending Mo out to sell weed at high-school parties.
You know this can’t end well, but writer-director Jason Orley makes you see Zeke’s offbeat charisma, even as you acknowledge what a terrible influence he is. Davidson is wonderful here. His all-out oddness is a large part of his gift; as Zeke, he’s like the awkward, fear-of-failure parts of all of us rolled into one person. The circles under his eyes speak of one long sleepless night, as if he’d just taken a red-eye from the moon. At one point he and Mo pop into a record store and Zeke blows some of the weed-selling earnings on random stuff, including an early 1980s R&B oddity. (It happens to be Rim and Kasa’s Too Tough.) When they get back to Zeke’s house, he puts the thing on the turntable and takes a few seconds to assess its appeal. The verdict shows up in his shimmying shoulders before you see it on his face. He segues into a terpsichorean groove that’s somewhere between Walt Disney’s 1920s dancing cartoon skeletons and a 1960s American Bandstand frug contest. Davidson’s Zeke is one of those inexplicably winning losers with coolness in his bones. He just doesn’t know how to make it work in the real world.