Yet another movie about a blinkered man-child reaching the limits of his extended childhood, True Adolescents seems as lazy and mush-brained as its central character. Glomming conceits and situations from a vast range of similarly themed films, it ambles along in a lethargic, good-natured manner, fitfully amusing but never approaching substantial.
Thirty-four-year-old Sam (Mark Duplass) is a lead singer in an unpopular rock band, with a girlfriend who’s finally had enough of his childish, self-serious antics. Kicked out of her apartment, he roams Seattle looking for other options, eventually ending up with his aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo), whose ostensibly fatherless son is ripe for a little paternal mentoring. Guilted into replacing the boy’s deadbeat father on a weekend camping trip, the petulant Mark finds himself in charge of the teenaged Oliver (Bret Loehr) and his best friend Jake (Carr Thompson). He heads into the wild with little idea about parenting or camping, and comes back moderately transformed, having learned the requisite lessons to nudge him into manhood.
This kind of male-bonding trip is a tried-and-true sitcom convention, and it certainly feels moldy here, with Sam’s Gen-X sarcasm and love for classic rock clashing against his companions’ disinterested apathy. This might be forgivable were this an actual comedy, but True Adolescents plays out as a slim drama propped up by a thin frame of jokes, too many of which involve Sam repeating something one of the boys just said in a funny voice, or calling them gay. The latter issue is broached via an awkward experimental kiss, which the film doesn’t have the mettle to really deal with, instead using it as an impetus to get two characters pointlessly lost in the woods.
The film’s insistent laziness is summed up by the appearance of a hippie duo, who on two occasions waft in like a puff of smoke, all halting speech patterns and exaggerated brainlessness. They are idiotic, enervating characters, played as some kind satire despite being cartoonishly broad. And while Duplass does a commendable job of inhabiting this likeable but pathetic loser, the character is such a stock type at this point that it hardly matters, the main hitch in a film that has nothing new to say.