REVIEW: Apatow and Davidson find laughs and warmth in overstuffed 'The King Of Staten Island'
Courtesy of Universal
Judd Apatow is a name synonymous with comedy and has been a pioneer when it comes to fostering new talent to the big screen, turning small-scale comedians into movie stars. Can anyone else claim to have elevated more A-listers in the last two decades than Apatow? Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Jason Siegel, Amy Schumer to name a few. Now the buck falls to current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson who gets the full Apatow treatment in “The King of Staten Island,” an earnest and overstuffed comedy brimming with heart and humor, though it never quite reaches the comedic highs of “Knocked Up” or “Trainwreck.”
But the movie works on the charm of Davidson who is essentially playing the same character he did in the recently released “Big Time Adolescences” – a chummy slacker searching for his next move. “Staten Island” is loosely based on the life Davidson would have lived had he not gone into stand-up comedy. Here he plays Scott, a 24-year-old stoner whose firefighter dad died when he was seven (Davidson’s real-life father actually passed away saving lives during 9/11). Scott is slightly motivated, but he fails to harness his potential: he wants to be an apprentice at a nearby tattoo parlor, except taking one look at his designs you’d run the other way because he’s not very good. The pressure is on him even more now that his younger sister (Maude Apatow) is heading off to college, leaving him the only child of the house.
When he attempts to throw a tattoo on a ten-year old, the disgruntled and recently divorced father Ray (Bill Burr) shows up on his doorstep and tries to throw sense at him. Enter Scott’s widowed mother Margie (of course played by Marisa Tomei) who strikes up a courtship with Ray – who is also a fireman - of which Scott immediately becomes threatened. After all, his livelihood is on the line and all the years his mother defended him in the wake of his father’s passing are long gone. Scott is an adult and he needs to grow-up and move on.
Apatow – who co-wrote the script with Dave Sirus and Davidson – throws several different subplots on screen in the hopes one of them sticks. At one point, I was curious if “Staten Island” was going to chronicle how Davidson thought of becoming a fireman like his dad (a plot that’s teased heavily throughout) or his plans to break-up his mom and Ray? Bel Powley (“The Morning Show”) is tossed in as a side love interest for Scott, though their relationship is on the rocks and it never quite hits the notes you’d expect because it gets the short end of the narrative leash.
Part of that is because Apatow doesn’t like to cut his movies for a leaner runtime. “The King of Staten Island” runs a bladder busting two hours and twenty minutes, which, for any movie would be considered lengthy, but for a Pete Davidson comedy it’s almost too much of a good thing. Apatow’s strengths lies in his ability to find the heart and soul in two-hander sequences, and when Scott and Ray sit down to find common ground and talk about Scott’s past, the signature Apatow is on full display and it reminds you why you love his style in the first place. It’s because he’s honest. Scenes near the end of the film when Scott is helping the local fire department (made up of Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Tatro, and Domenick Lombardozzi among others) the film achieves the hefty balance of emotional sincerity mixed with hilarious one-liners.
Davidson might find himself backed into a corner if he keeps tackling characters with the same goals. If you had just watched “Adolescences” like I did, you’d wonder if the comic was being typecast. I’m not familiar with his work on SNL too much, and everyone probably knows about his stint dating Ariana Grande, but “The King of Staten Island” solidifies his ability to carry a film when he’s in the correct mantra with a talented director.
THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND was originally intended to hit theaters on June 12th 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will now land on premium video-on-demand instead.