The King of Staten Island
The King of Staten Island succeeds because of its star and co-writer Pete Davidson. The SNL regular elevates the film because of its true-life roots and his ability to bring a level of authenticity to the character. Otherwise, Staten Island feels very much like the rest of director Judd Apatow's recent output -- it's too long and requires much patience.
Trainwreck and Knocked Up writer/director Judd Apatow returns to the silver screen for The King of Staten Island, a part comedic, part dramatic effort co-written and based on the real-life events of its star, Pete Davidson. The King of Staten Island isn’t immediately as memorable as some of the other characters Apatow has created in his long career of R-rated comedies, instead it’s an interesting character study that burns slow, requiring patience from the viewer as it dives into the life of its main character, played in charming goofball fashion by Pete Davidson.
Scott (Pete Davidson) is a troubled burnout, living in his mom’s house at the age of 24 while he attempts to get a clue or a sense of direction for the rest of his life. His dad was a firefighter that passed away tragically when Scott was just a kid, which has damaged him for life, essentially killing his self-confidence and wrecking his self-worth. He blames everything in his life on himself or whatever else he can use as a crutch, because he’s simply too afraid to take responsibility or confront something that he might actually have the power to change.
Things get doubly interesting as his mom (Marisa Tomei) starts dating again and his sister (Maude Apatow) heads off to college. Now, Scott is left facing the world alone, or at least with a little bit more responsibility.
And that’s difficult for him, because he wants to worry about nothing other than when his next nap is. Scott is fine smoking with his friends, playing video games whenever and having casual sex with a longtime friend that desires an actual relationship, but Scott can’t seem to grasp commitment without self disappointment.
The King of Staten Island works great as an exploration of self-destruction and a rebuilding of self-worth. Co-writer and star Pete Davidson brings a sense of plausible deniability to the character that is well aware of his actions and the results that come from them, but absolutely refuses to face the consequences or admit that he alone holds the strength to change things and put himself in a better place. He’s also great at immediately blaming himself or labeling himself as a loser or a mess up, because it’s easier to just take the cheap responsibility and sulk in it, versus actually get up off his ass and doing something about it.
In anyone else’s hands, this could be a recipe for disaster, creating an unlikable character that some might take zero pity on. But Davidson and Apatow carefully write the character in a way that feels authentic and understood, if occasionally misunderstood in terms of how much raw pain is still lingering after the passing of his father.
The King of Staten Island doesn’t immediately feel like another Apatow joint, providing us with less memorable characters, not as many belly laughs and a plethora of complex emotions that aren’t instantly resolved or fully navigated.
But the film does suffer from similar traits of Apatow’s more recent output, including the fact that it runs too long and ends in kind of a weird place. But it redeems itself by cracking into the heart of the core character with patience and authenticity.
I spent a majority of the time watching the film waiting for something big to happen and then it never did. But as I reflected on my viewing experience I quickly understood that the film was never about a big change or a dramatic move that brought Scott from one point in his life to the next and that it was instead about those subtle changes that take place daily and sometimes only for a brief moment.
That is true growth and a growth that heals the mind, body and soul. Davidson helps bring that point home by the end of the film and it leaves a lasting impression.
The King of Staten Island isn’t a perfect film or even Apatow’s best film, but it’s one that I will likely revisit, because of Davidson’s ability to take what could’ve been a joke of a character in any other Apatow film and turn him into a sincere and real human being, full of his own problems, but also full of heart and driving passion, if only a little misguided.
In our modern day of lacking a real theatrical viewing experience I must say that The King of Staten Island worked perfectly at home, allowing for me to become hooked on these characters, despite the lacking 25-foot screen and state-of-the-art surround sound. The King of Staten Island is the perfect film to dive into in the comfort of your own home and one that you will finish not feeling like you missed something special that would’ve been attached with a theatrical experience.
The King of Staten Island is currently available to rent on multiple VOD platforms, including Vudu and iTunes.