“All it takes is 10 seconds of stupid to ruin your life,” Reuben (Jon Cryer) tells his son Monroe (Griffin Gluck) in “Big Time Adolescence,” just after lending him his sister’s old Jeep – he’s referring to driving safely, but he should be more concerned with the seven years of stupid that Monroe’s already been privy to, thanks to the other thing he inherited from his sister, her ex-boyfriend Isaac (Pete Davidson). Yet whereas Katie saw an immature, noncommittal slacker whose charms wouldn’t last past high school in Isaac, especially once she caught him cheating on her, the nine-year-old Monroe saw the coolest guy ever, impressed with the fact that cashiers at drive-thrus knew him by name and he’d occasionally sneak him peeks of nudes on his phone. Now 16, Monroe is in a position to actually act on Isaac’s influence in ways that could have an impact on his future, but seeing where Isaac is these days, working a dead-end job at an appliance store and still hanging out with homies from high school, he starts to question whether he should.
Although the cars in “Big Time Adolescence” are not much to brag about, writer/director Jason Orley is given the keys to a Rolls Royce in getting to preside over Davidson’s first major starring role, getting all the mileage he can out of his thousand-watt goofy grin and the things he can get away with saying right before flashing it, but he returns the favor with a part with real depth for the “SNL” mischief-maker, subverting his ability to disarm people with his charm as a protective shield masking major insecurities about his future. While Isaac has aspirations of being a talk show host, suggesting that eventually Monroe can be the Guillermo to his Jimmy Kimmel, the equation rapidly changes once Monroe can start driving, losing a little bit of his confidence with everything his protege can do for himself. Despite the presence of cocaine and all the F-bombs lobbed around, there’s a surprisingly considerate drama underneath the raucous comedy as Isaac and Reuben both worry about losing Monroe’s attention and while Reuben knows he’s disqualified from encouraging his son towards anything young men his age are interested in, whether it’s drinking beer or chasing girls, Isaac is forced to take stock upon realizing if you’re there for the exciting stuff, you can’t leave if there’s consequences.
For as much as Davidson shines, Gluck is unflappable as Monroe, playing the impressionable straight man with just the right amount of edge and you actually feel like you’re watching someone grow up on camera, particularly when Orley devotes as much time as he does to his burgeoning relationship with Sophie (Oona Laurence), a classmate who sees through any Isaac-inspired put-ons and is liable to have more influence on Monroe than either his older best friend or his father. Orley’s script is smart and knowing in all the right ways, delivering a steady stream of ridiculously bad ideas and sharp one-liners for his cast to run with, but also showing how vulnerable all his characters are, confronted with playing roles in someone else’s life they never thought they’d have to. With such an engaging feature debut, the writer/director affirms he’s right where he should be.