The genre of comedies about scruffy, directionless 30-year-old man-boys has occasionally produced a sub-genre where those men are pitted against actual young people, either as contrast (when the teenagers are more mature than the adults) or so they can wallow in their juvenile behavior together. We got a big-studio taste of that with last year’s “Role Models,” and now here’s “True Adolescents,” the indie version, which means it has more contemplative moments and a lot of mumbling.
Mark Duplass, already a recognizable face in the so-called mumblecore movement, stars as Sam, a Seattle slacker whose rock band is, at least in his mind, always on the verge of hitting it big. To an impartial observer, it’s more like he’s unemployed. After his girlfriend throws him out, he crashes with his aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo), who’s sympathetic but realistic about Sam’s need to grow up and get serious.
Sharon is divorced and has custody of her son, 14-year-old Oliver (Bret Loehr), who looks at Internet porn and behaves in a surly fashion — “he’s in his ‘greasy little bastard’ phase,” Sam says. Oliver and his best friend, Jake (Carr Thompson) (“Little Lord Fauntleroy,” Sam calls him) have been looking forward to a weekend camping trip with Oliver’s father; when he flakes out, Sam is conscripted to take the boys himself.
As farcical as that scenario may sound — they’re on a collision course with wackiness! — first-time writer/director Craig Johnson keeps the humor down-to-earth. The film is an acerbic but realistic coming-of-age story, with all three male characters experiencing some growth over the course of the trip, the tone gradually shifting from hipster-funny to hipster-introspective.
If all of this sounds familiar, I’m guessing you’ve seen some of the movies about these slackers who have to figure out what to do with their lives. There’s even a pretty good chance you’ve seen Mark Duplass in some of them. (He co-wrote and starred in “The Puffy Chair” and appears in this year’s “Humpday.”) But while “True Adolescents” may be typical of its genre, it’s a solid, well-made entry, with a few details (like its treatment of sexual identity) that help it stand apart from the pack.
It also benefits from Duplass, whose laid-back charm and natural wit make even commonplace material a treat. Watching him work — verbally abusing the teenagers, growing sullen when they abuse him back — it’s easy to imagine him fitting in with the Seth Rogen crowd, the bumbling slackers for whom cracking a wry joke comes as naturally as smoking weed. Whether Duplass wants that kind of career, I don’t know. But whatever he wants, he deserves it. The guy is funny, and he can bring on the drama when need be, too. “True Adolescents” gives him a chance to do both.
B (1 hr., 28 min.; )