Review by James Lindorf
Grief and humor blend beautifully in Judd Apatow’s latest film, “The King of Staten Island.” This is the first time the frequent writer and producer got behind the camera for a narrative film since 2015’s “Trainwreck.” Apatow handled his typical three jobs but helping with the writing duties this time were star Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus (“Saturday Night Live”).
On the surface, Scott (Pete Davidson) is the prototypical loser, he still lives at home in his mid-20s, doesn’t have a job, and spends most of his free time smoking weed in his mom’s basement. He is a young man, and below the surface, still struggling to overcome the death of his firefighter father that happened when he was seven. As his younger sister (Maude Apatow) heads to college and his mother (Marisa Tomei) starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), a loudmouth firefighter, things come to a head for Scott. His days of hanging with the guys, Oscar (Ricky Velez), Igor (Moises Arias), and Richie (Lou Wilson) and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend, Kelsey (Bel Powley), are coming to an end. The only question is if the grief-stricken Scott will begin to heal or succumb to his depression, ADD, and suicidal thoughts.
Although “The Big Sick” remains the best movie Judd Apatow has been involved with in any capacity, “The King of Staten” Island may be the best movie he has written or directed. It has plenty of humor that will leave you chuckling along, if not laughing out loud. Unlike past films that relied on raunchiness like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “The King of Staten Island” has substantial depth and heart to go along with the comedy. This is also not the first time he has imbued his characters with genuine emotions. “Funny People” had plenty, but it may be the first time he has combined that emotion with more relatable characters. Scott’s mom is a school nurse who picks up some shifts at the local emergency room. Scott has a dream of being a tattoo artist. Both of these characters are much more relatable than a dying millionaire.
Davidson is the center of the film, and not just because he’s the star, but because “The King of Staten Island” is his semi-autobiographical story. Pete’s mom really was a school nurse, and his father was a fireman, but instead of a hotel fire, he actually died during 9/11. That news and the film’s sometimes dark humor won’t shock anyone that has seen any of his stand-up routines. Davidson is not shy about discussing how those events shaped him as a comedian and person. Though he may not be the best actor, Pete has a deep well of emotion to tap into for the moments when it is needed. That ability, plus his comedic timing and natural charisma, makes him a strong candidate for developing into a powerful performer. The real acting credits for this movie belong to Maude Apatow and Marisa Tomei, whose love, frustration, and fear for Scott are always boiling below the surface.
The biggest misstep of the film is the 136-minute running time. There is nothing overtly glaring that needs to be cut, but there are several small points that could use a trim. While it doesn’t reach the point of clock-watching, a little brevity may have resulted in more impact from the big moments. Overall, “The King of Staten Island” is delightfully funny and surprisingly heartfelt.