Big Time Adolescence

A fun thing to do when you’re watching a movie is to consider the point of view. Who is telling this story? Who would know all the things the person telling this story would know? I don t just mean the plot points, the facts of the story. I mean the judgement of the events as well. Who has and doesn’t have the wisdom to know what these events mean and whether or not the characters should be doing what they are doing? I don’t mean first-, second-, or third-person point-of-view either, those holdovers from literary criticism. I’m referring to the moral point-of-view on the story.

Movies about teenagers often feel like they are from the moral point-of-view of the protagonist as an adult. The storyteller is looking back on events and seeing them from the wisened vantage point of adulthood and noting they should and shouldn’t have done differently. This doesn’t mean this imagined adult necessarily lived through all the events. Some of them are clearly imagined, but the imagined events fit in with the overall moral judgement being leveled against the teenager. Lady Bird is a perfect example of this moral point-of-view.

There are movies that feel like they are from the point-of-view of the teenager in question in the moment as well. John Hughes excelled at this. I like to imagine Ferris Bueller’s Day Off happening in Ferris’ imagination during an especially boring day in algebra class.

Then there are movies that seem to be from the point-of-view of a concerned authority figure in the kid’s life. Mean Girls could be a script written by Cady’s math teacher trying to understand and caution her students. Hey! It was. The terrific 2018 film Eighth Grade might be the cinema-realized concerns and dreams of Kayla’s dad, Mark.

That’s a long way of asking the question I asked myself all throughout Big Time Adolescence – who is telling this story? It’s clearly not our sixteen-year-old protagonist Mo in the moment. He’s not nearly that self-aware. And it’s not him as an adult either, because a few of the moments that he’d understand as sad later in life are still presented as exciting or romantic. I don’t think it’s her parents or any other authority figure either, for the same reason. Maybe the moral point-of-view is his older sister’s. She would both be concerned for Mo and understand the appeal of his actions. This is a kind of older-sibling remove to the film.

Ah! I think the moral point-of-view belongs to Zeke, Mo’s much older best friend who leads him into drugs and alcohol and all the bad choices Mo makes. Big Time Adolescence is about their friendship and how Mo has to learn that Zeke is a bad influence. Zeke, played hilariously by comedian Pete Davidson, is charming even when you know he’s giving Mo terrible advice.  You always understand why Mo like Zeke. And though Zeke is the source of antagonism in Mo’s life, he also gets to be the hero once or twice in a way. Big Time Adolescence is as if Zeke finally, one day grows up and thinks back about his friend, Mo, and considers his culpability in Mo’s problems even as he also treasures their friendship.

Many of us have people like Zeke in our lives, well-meaning friends who do not have their lives together and whom we should no follow the example of. And yet they love us, and we love them. They are like lost puppies – we wouldn’t throw them out, but we wouldn’t leave them alone in our house all day either because they’d chew on the furniture and pee on the carpet. There comes a time when we have to go on our way and pray they finally figure things out. We have to commit them to God, who loves them more than we can, for our own health as well as theirs.