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The King of Staten Island (A Movie Review)


Starring Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson, Moises Arias, Maude Apatow, Carly Aquilino, Robert Vidal III, Angus Costello, Pauline Chalamet, Lynne Koplitz, Joseph Paul Kennedy, Nina Hellman, Jack Hamblin, Kevin Corrigan, Stephen Davidson, Keith Robinson, Giselle King, Pamela Adlon, Domenick Lombardozzi, Colson Baker and Steve Buscemi.

Screenplay by Judd Apatow & Pete Davidson & David Sirus.

Directed by Judd Apatow.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 116 minutes. Rated R.

As a film director, Judd Apatow seems to have a pretty set formula. Take someone who is creating a buzz in comedy – usually in stand-up, or TV, or both – but generally hasn’t broken through in film yet. Create a film loosely based on their lives and their comic personas. Make it a mixture of comedy and drama – a lot of smart wisecracks and dick jokes mixed in with some slightly melodramatic family crises. Give a supporting role to his wife and/or daughters. Have a cute little girl randomly (and somewhat unnecessarily) sing a show tune. And make the film probably about a half-hour to an hour longer than necessary.

Sometimes, this formula works out well. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin with Steve Carell and Trainwreck with Amy Schumer were both pretty great in their ways. Sometimes, it’s a mixed bag, like Knocked Up with Seth Rogen and This is 40 with Paul Rudd. Sometimes, it is nearly unbearable, like Funny People with Adam Sandler.

The King of Staten Island gives the shot to Saturday Night Live comic Pete Davidson. It is one of Apatow’s okay ones, and it may be a bit better if not for Davidson’s character, who honestly is kind of a dick through most of the film. That’s okay, of course, it’s possible to make a good comedy about a jerk, and it also makes the inevitable redemption a nicer thing, if perhaps a little unlikely.

Literally, we are introduced to Scott as he is driving on the turnpike and causes a multiple car collision because he closed his eyes while driving for a good several minutes. Of course, he makes it out unscathed, and as he drives off, not even stopping to check if everyone is okay, he listlessly says into the rearview mirror, “I’m sorry” over and over again.

Strangely, that tells you pretty much all you need to know about the guy. He’s a bit of fuck-up. He’s impulsive. He doesn’t think about consequences. He’s always apologizing after wreaking havoc in other people’s lives. Yet he never sticks around to atone, nor does he learn from his mistakes. He just lives in his mom’s house, gets stoned while playing X-Box with his friends, doesn’t work much and dreams of being a tattoo artist – though he doesn’t really have the artistic talent to make that dream a reality.

His father was a well-respected fireman who died in the line of duty when Scott was only seven. He idolizes the memory of the man, and counter-intuitively has decided he can never live up for his father’s legacy – so why even try?

His mom (Marisa Tomei) and college-bound sister (Maude Apatow) put up with him – basically prop him up – much more than he deserves, because he treats both like crap, though he obviously does love them. His female best friend since childhood (Bel Powley) is clearly in love with him, but he treats her like a booty call. His guy friends are mostly dead-end stoner punks – though in fairness, they all have surprising levels of empathy and insight at different points in the film.

His sister describes Scott as looking like “a crack dealer under the bridge,” and she’s not completely wrong. This dude is just crying out for a lifestyle makeover.

It comes, not surprisingly, through one of his clueless and reckless mistakes. He offers to tattoo a nine-year-old boy he meets in the park – not even imagining that maybe a little kid isn’t ready to make that kind of decision – and the kid chickens out after just a single line. The kid’s dad Ray (Bill Burr) is unsurprisingly pissed off and comes to his house to tell him off. It turns out the dude is also a firefighter who slightly knew Scott’s dad and falls for Scott’s mom.

Ray and mom start to date. He tries to do a bit of tough love friendship and introduce Scott to the fireman’s life, even though Ray has his own problems. Scott irrationally finds his mom’s relationship with Ray – her first romantic relationship in the 17 years since his father’s death – a stark betrayal to his dad’s memory.

Interestingly, for a change, it is the later scenes, when the guy is finding himself and starting to become a more caring, motivated man is where this movie comes to life. In general, that is where Apatow’s films fall apart, so that’s a good thing. We want to see this guy get his shit together.

However, honestly, he is probably the least interesting or likable character here. I’d have been much more interested in less of him and seeing the fleshing out of his mom’s story, or his sister’s, or his sorta girlfriend, or the head of the firehouse (played by an underused Steve Buscemi). A little bit of Pete Davidson goes a long way.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: August 24, 2020.

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