The King of Staten Island

All Hail The King of Staten Island

You either love or hate Judd Apatow comedies. They’re often quite poignant, but dry with humour and sometimes feel endless in their runtime, often stretching over two hours. Although packed with the hottest and funniest comedians and actors, they can fall a little flat towards the end, tiring out the unsuspecting audience. The King of Staten Island probably won’t make you an Apatow fan if you weren’t one already, but it is likeable and accessible enough to be considered some of the director’s finest work.

We follow Scott (Pete Davidson), a twenty-something aspiring tattoo artist, who doesn’t have a clue about his life. Most of Scott’s days are spent smoking weed and inking inappropriate tattoos on his friends, who are more or less enthusiastic canvasses for Scott’s passion. His father died in the line of work as a firefighter and while his spirited mother (Marisa Tomei) tries to keep him on a path that will lead somewhere, things get complicated when she gets involved with another firefighter.

The King of Staten Island has daddy issues written all over it, so it’s a little surprising it doesn’t feature that many scenes directly about them. Although everything in Scott’s aimless life is a direct consequence of the trauma, this is much more about a guy finally finding the spark within himself to want a better life.

Davidson is a revelation here. If you didn’t get the appeal of the comedian before this, you will now. Scott is a terrible protagonist; a lazy and selfish jerk, but Davidson makes him compelling and engaging by injecting him with warmth and some very old-school charm. Scott is someone we all know, and probably pity too, but never bother to look any deeper to see the root of that aimlessness. Apatow and Davidson, who wrote the script together with Dave Sirus, based it on Davidson’s own experiences and allow us a glimpse into the life of someone we may automatically disregard and it feels remarkably fresh and insightful.

The whole cast is a strong selection of talent, like a smorgasbord of off-beat excellence. Tomei is magnetic as Scott’s mom and Bill Burr has great chemistry with Davidson. Moises Arias, one of the most interesting and versatile young actors working today, is unfortunately criminally underused as Scott’s buddy Igor, but brings a lot of humour to his scenes. Steve Buscemi is also a welcome addition as a fellow firefighter, especially considering the actor’s own firefighting past and involvement in 9/11 (Buscemi enlisted with his old fire station to help search for survivors).

As all Apatow films, The King of Staten Island is long. Really long. The question is can it justify its runtime or will the film start chafing like my thighs in July? Yes and no. There’s something quite sweet about a film that feels as directionless as its main character, but this is very clearly a 100-minute film needlessly stretched to 136 minutes. Although it often stumbles onto something emotionally honest and affecting, it needs to be tighter to really draw the audience in. This is a film that often feels like a bad spouse, concealing all their emotions until its too late and we demand half of everything in the divorce settlement.

The heart of the film is Scott’s new-found friendships – camaraderie and all – not just with his mother’s new boyfriend, but the guys at the fire station. He forms meaningful relationships with these men, works hard and feels ever closer to his late father, finding some way of channelling his grief into mopping the floors and plunging the toilets at the station. Davidson beautifully brings out the inner panic and admiration when he’s allowed to jump into the truck and watch them tackle a raging fire. It’s almost like a different film to the one we began watching, a much more tender look at masculinity and growing up without a role model.

The King of Staten Island is at its best during its last hour and especially those last 30 minutes. It never resolves all of Scott’s problems, which feels refreshing and truthful, but shows us he has perhaps changed enough to really make a difference in someone else’s life now. Overall, this is a heartfelt, funny and most importantly, emotionally resonant film from Apatow and guaranteed to make Davidson a serious actor and writer.

The King of Staten Island is released digitally June 12th.

Maria Lattila

Updated: Jun 09, 2020

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