With “True Adolescents,” Mark Duplass stars in what must be the most conventional recent project on his resume. Putting on his best Jack Black impression, the “Puffy Chair” co-director (and “Humpday” star) plays moody, unkempt Seattle rock musician Sam, a crude character unable to pull his aimless life into focus. After another frustrated roommate kicks him to the curb, Sam winds up crashing with his settled aunt (Melisso Leo, in hardly more than a cameo), and ultimately hits the road on a camping trip with her brooding adolesent son Oliver (Brett Loer) and his friend Jake (Carr Thompson). Things do wrong: They fight, get lost in the woods, wind up seperated, and finally reconcile their differences. They learn from each other. An immature man and two growing boys embark on the journey of a lifetime. The usual routine. It’s one of those movies with a premise that dooms itself from the very beginning.
However, first time writer-director Craig Johnson shows definite potential, and not just with tired Hollywood formulas. “True Adolescents” veers into slightly adventurous thematic territory about halfway through with an expectedly mature plot twist involving the relationship between Oliver and Jake. It doesn’t play out too well, but the arrival of this development does — at least momentarily — inject a sense of surprise and excitement into the mostly by-the-numbers proceedings.
Oddly enough, the concept gets a far better treatment in Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” another Seattle-based project that Duplass acted in after “True Adolescents.” Johnson himself can’t seem to generate the sort of sparkly dialogue a project like this requires in order to transcend its predictable nature. But again, his potential is there. In the final scene, we spend a few solitary moments with Sam as he gazes in the mirror, reflecting on his empty life. The personal revelations play out in purely visual terms. And as the screen cut to black, I wanted to shout out, “More of this, please.”