Director: Judd Apatow
Writer(s): Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, Dave Sirus
Cast: Pete Davidson, Marissa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi
Synopsis: Scott, a pot smoking tattoo artist, learns to cope with the grief of his firefighter fathers death.
The Judd Apatow formula strikes again, but this time there is a little bit of a twist. Usually with Apatow movies, the story is purely comedic and surrounded by a bit of drama to intrigue the audience. In The King of Staten Island, he flips that and manages to find the comedy in the drama.
The King of Staten Island is a long movie. Sitting at around 2 hours and 17 minutes, there are a lot of chances for this movie o go wrong. For the theme to stop working, the story to start feeling dragged on, or the overall feel of it to start getting bland. While this film does manage to get sloppy at times, it never fully enters that unwatchable zone. You can put a lot of that on the shoulders of Judd Apatow, who moves away from his normal schtick for a new twist on his movie. He still has the down on his luck loser with no plan or future set in place, but instead of sending him down a long line of wacky adventures, he lets his character grow through personal grief and struggles.
Pete Davidson, who is in almost every frame of the film, should not have been this good. He should not have been remotely this good, but the level of dramatic acting he brought to the screen was a stroke of brilliance. Instead of being a fuck up kid with no future, he turns into a brilliant person who is being held back. In this film it is his dad and the death that has hurt him since he was 7. This film was a sort of cathartic experience for Davidson as his father in real life also passed away being a fireman. Davidson in this movie takes on the name of his father, Scott, and I am sure that his father would be proud of the magnificence brought to the screen.
Scott doesn’t want to be a screwup. He knows he is and he knows there is something better for him, but he allows the grief of his father to weigh on him like a bag of bricks. He wants what is best for the people around him, but it has to be his best or he gives up. He doesn’t want to try anything because he doesn’t want to fail. This includes art school, a relationship, and even just getting a job. He dreams big, but sometimes too big in ways that just aren’t reachable. He lets these dreams of his drag him down because he knows the difficulty it would take to accomplish them.
So he draws, and gives tattoos, and tries to make his mark on the world that way, but the inconsistencies in his sketches lead him to think he can’t even do the one thing he truly enjoys. Pete Davidson is wonderful in this and fully grasps the emotional moments of this story. He makes you hurt and feel for him, and even in moments where he is laughing it off, you can sense the struggle that is going on underneath. This is as much of a character story as Judd Apatow has ever given us, and somehow Pete Davidson fully nails this role to perfection. I don’t know if he will have enough behind him to get an Oscar nomination, but the critics should eat him up.
What might be even more shocking than that is how wonderful Bill Burr and the rest of the cast are in this as well. Bill Burr is in a role that we have never seen from him, and if it wasn’t for the distinct voice I wouldn’t even have known that was him. He goes toe to toe with Davidson and they truly do push each other whenever they re on screen. Some of the other supporting characters, like Scott’s friends, are not given much time to let their story be known. But, for Scott’s personal life, they get every chance to shine. After an incident that separates Scott from his friends, he is forced to hang around people who are just a little bit older and wiser. People who knew his dad, and who knew how to really get to Scott. These people help guide Scott on a path with more redemption and one that he can actually see himself going down.
Apatow’s direction takes a leap as well with being able to capture the raw and real moments that haunt Scott so much. There are moments of grief and other scenes that are filled with nothing but suspense. His ability as a filmmaker is leaps and bounds above anything else I have seen him do, and it gives me much more hope for him in the future.
The biggest issue with the film however, is the length. Apatow and Davidson (who co-wrote) want to fit in as much as possible. I don’t blame them for this, and luckily the film never falls completely off the rails, but it does get sloppy at times. There are scenes where we keep coming back to the same issues and struggle with the same problems we have been. You are getting to witness Scott’s life take place, but you are there with him for such a prolonged period of time, you wonder when the movie will end. The ending was satisfying, but I just wish it had happened a little sooner rather than later.
Final: The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most mature movie to date as he finds comedy among the drama, and even though the film begins to get sloppy, it never completely falls off the rails. Pete Davidson, who is in almost every shot, is given every chance to screw up, but doesn’t and holds this film high on his shoulders. Pete Davidson shines as THE King of Staten Island.
Current Tomato Score: 71%
Current Metacritic: 68
Current IMDb: 7.2/10
Awards Prospects: Best Actor
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.