The King of Staten Island Review: Davidson and Apatow are a winning combination
Writer/director Judd Apatow has made a lot of great comedy vehicles over the years that have launched plenty of comedians into the view of the public eye. Whether it was Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin or Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, there’re are plenty of modern comedy stars that have teamed up with Apatow to bring their comedic talents to the big screen. However, Apatow’s latest film, The King of Staten Island, is a little different as it sees him partnering up with Wild N’ Out and SNL alum Pete Davidson to somewhat tell a more biographical story of Davidson losing his father at a young age.
The film follows Scott (Davidson), an aspiring tattoo artist who lost his firefighter father at young age, in a similar vein to Davidson, and struggles to find a way to move forward in his life. Although his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is moving off to college and his mom (Marisa Tomei) is starting a new relationship with another firefighter (Bill Burr), Scott is stuck in his own self-loathing mentality as life passes him by. However, Scott eventually begins to experience major changes and growing pains in his life that put him in a position where he’s either forced to take action in making major changes in his life and be forced to deal with his feelings that stem from his father’s death or be stuck in this pitiful rut for the rest of his life.
As per usual with Apatow films, the performances are great in both comedic and dramatic fashion with Davidson showcasing the best of his ability. His fast-talking comedy and strong personality work well in giving Scott’s attitude some comedic charm. It’s actually funny how Scott’s mom and Claire actually recognize him as funny and he certainly lives up to it with some great dialogue and lines. The script is actually co-written by Apatow, Davidson, and Dave Sirus, a SNL writing alum, and features some great sequences that let Davidson shine. From having some great conversations about life, superheroes, and singing while walking Ray’s kids to school to cracking some solid jokes about everyone around him, Davidson works really well with Apatow’s direction. Frankly, films like this really show why many rising comedic talents work with Apatow as he knows how to put someone in the spotlight and show them at their best.
Davidson even nails it in the more dramatic elements of Scott’s story likely because of how closely tied to this story he is. Every moment of self-pity that not only keeps Scott from moving forward in his life, but also makes everyone slowly lose hope in him is made very genuine and engaging because of how real Davidson’s performance is. In some ways, it was actually kind of tough for me to relate to or even like Scott because his self-destructive attitude and views that stem from internal hurt that he’s not opening up about or genuinely owning up to heavily reminded of people I’ve met before. If I’m being completely honest, I was a little turned off by him throughout most of the movie and came off a little unsatisfied by the end because it felt like I got five minutes of lackluster redemption for two hours of dealing with a truly cynical dipshit.
However, what I’ve come to realize is that this reaction to the material is a testament to Davidson’s strong performance and some of the strong writing of this film. None of the emotional moments ever come off over-blown or like it’s trying too hard and it creates this real connection to Scott’s story and his issues in coming to terms with his emotions. There’s definitely some relatability that most post-grads could have with Scott and even the ending resolution that part of me still doesn’t see as balanced is hard not to respect because of how real it is. A lot of the hardships and moments of emotion don’t come off as dramatized events in a movie, but rather as a real depiction of personal struggle. It’s certainly a much more mature look for Apatow and a personal story for Davidson that he treats like letting weight off of his shoulders.
It’s honestly great that Apatow and Davidson add some fresh elements that make this otherwise overly familiar outing unique. I’d be lying if the story of The King of Staten Island didn’t have it’s predictable moments and even while there’s definitely some props that need to go to Apatow’s direction, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the tone and style of the humor definitely falls in line with his other films. For some that might get the laughs going just fine, but I think I’d like to see Apatow go for something a little different in the future.
Also, even for the great personal connection to Davidson’s life, some of the moments come off very predictable and cookie cutter. For instance, there’s a pivotal moment where Scott is forced out to fend for himself and he ends up in a place that viewers could see coming from the second he leaves. A lot of Scott’s actions actually are kind of predictable since he lays out right at the beginning how he makes erratic decisions because he can’t control things and it just leads into familiar territory. There’re even times when its easy to question if Scott’s really learning anything and I think the film cuts a little short in delivering some kind of affirmation that his arc is really complete.
Even through some of its familiar territory though, the film constantly finds ways to add some fresh humor through the film’s great supporting cast. This film is honestly a great launching platform for Burr as well with his performance as Ray being just as balanced as Davidson’s. He’s equally funny with how he strikes up some strong banter with his firefighter buddies as well as with Davidson and emotionally engaging with his relationship with Scott’s mom and how he eventually bonds with Scott through his father. Not to mention, the chemistry between him and Tomei is excellent, and their initial date together really has a sweetness to it that totally infectious. There’re also two great performances from Apatow’s daughter, Maude, as she makes Claire’s frustrations and undying care for Scott very easy to relate to as well as Bel Powley as a friend/more than a friend of Scott who shows her own strengths and acts as another strong motivator for Scott in his life.
Even for treading in familiar Apatow territory and not presenting the most enjoyable of main characters, The King of Staten Island present an incredibly strong showing from Apatow as well as some really great performances from the entire cast – especially Davidson and Burr. Frankly, I’m hoping that this isn’t the only time we see Davidson and Apatow team up together as their initial outing presents a deeply personal story about struggle, overcoming personal vendettas, and living for yourself.