There is an archetype throughout film and TV we could refer to as “the screw-up”. They go by other names: the goofball, the stoner, the dude. This character never quite stepped forward into being a contributing member of society and takes his laziness in stride. This character is typically the comic relief, the buddy, and, occasionally, the hero or “the man for his time and place”, but with the new film Big Time Adolescence, we see this archetype in the position of an antagonist.
This film by, first-time director, Jason Orley explores the odd relationship between a quiet awkward teenager, Monroe, and his 23-year-old burnout friend, Zeke.
Zeke and Monroe hang out, drink, and goof off in Zeke’s ideal stress-free grime-filled life until one of the cool(er) kids at Monroe’s high school invites him to a party with all the cool little cats and kittens on the condition he supplies booze and drugs. This ultimately culminates in Monroe becoming a pseudo-fonziesque leather-jacket-wearing drug pimp and Zeke supplying the drugs and downward-focused motivation.
The plot is nothing new. Bad decisions pile atop one another as Mozart-levels of poor decision-making create increasingly unmanageable consequences that the characters attempt to avoid until it all blows up in their faces. The entire structure of the film is obvious after the first 5 minutes. Any cliche-conscious person will be waiting for the scene where their actions stop resulting in fun party time and our foolish characters begin paying the price for living the way they do. I personally wasn’t expecting for that scene to ultimately end up being the entire second half of the movie. I swear I watched the last 45 minutes gripping my stomach with embarrassment yelling practical life advice at my television screen.
What the film lacks in innovative plotting it makes up for with deep characterization. Monroe disguises his true self almost entirely in every social situation as a cool-headed cocky drug dealer, emulating his role model. His facade is as obvious as any other awkward teenager attempting to fit in with a popular crowd, but his new associates are totally comfortable playing along because of what he literally brings to the party.
His crush, Sophie, sees through his artificial surface and makes an attempt to connect with his true self. When she puts even the smallest amount of effort into reach his authentic personality he responds with more genuine enthusiasm than in any other part of the film. Despite circumstances demanding he plays a role, he is such a genuine individual that a small amount of kindness and sincerity causes him to drop all pretenses and just be comfortable with someone.
Monroe isn’t comfortable just being socially accepted he also holds a strong drive to have an honest genuine connection. This ultimately sets the division of character between him and Zeke. Zeke was Monroe when he was a teenager. He was the insecure young kid who strived for social acceptance and was willing to ruin his own life to achieve it. The main difference between the two is that Zeke was more comfortable having his genuine self buried beneath the cool guy image. He doesn’t allow people to get close to him which is why he is such an avid cheater. He fears the pain of closeness. Its never explicitly said, but the fact that he lived with his grandmother insists that he lost his parents at one point. This trauma could be the thing that made him begin to push away deeper connections, but now we meet him as a man whose defense mechanisms are harming him and the people around him.
There’s one scene later on in the movie where he finds out about a betrayal someone close to him made and he takes a few moments to swallow the pain and reject his own emotions before moving to an unbelievable state of instant forgiveness. He buries his ambition, his love, and his true feelings in order to not endure the pain of loss, failure, or rejection. The tragedy of his character comes from the fact that how he lives his life causes him more pain than what he is running from.
The film elevated itself into greatness at the final scene. A typical film would have the final reunion between these characters show how much both of them have grown. The only caveat to this comfortable cliche is that Zeke hasn’t grown at all. It seems like he might have for a moment, getting a new job and writing a screenplay, but ultimately the job is brand new and the script is only in his head. Zeke asks Monroe to hang out again and Monroe practically runs away from him, leaving Zeke blurred out in the rear windshield as he falls to the floor.
Monroe has grown up. He has learned through the course of the film that Zeke will only bring him down in life, so he makes a hard act of division to ensure he protects his own life. Zeke hasn’t endured much of anything to challenge his personality and lifestyle until Monroe cuts him off completely.
Zeke falling over gives the audience a small drop of hope that he has learned it is his fault he lost someone close to him. We can hope this teaches him the lessons he needs to learn in order to grow, but he has throughout the course of the film, cemented himself as the antagonist in the story of Monroe’s life. Therefore, he’s lost all rights to have any sort of redemption explored in the context of Monroe’s growth arc. (The viewer could also surmise that his general fear of pain, loss, and rejection may have just been fortified by this.) Monroe has learned that though it might be painful, Zeke won’t become a better person on his own and will only bring him down.
Ultimately this film teaches a lesson people like Zeke never learned: Until you care for yourself, your life will only get worse. I think it’s a good film with a great message that many young people should hear: Endure all of the necessary pains in life or get ready for some unnecessary ones. Take your life seriously because you’ll have it until you die.