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The King of Staten Island

It’s no secret that Pete Davidson is not the biggest fan of our city. Irked with his experiences while in Syracuse during the filming of BIG TIME ADOLESCENCE, he has emphatically shared his negative opinions in his stand-up special on Netflix, and in multiple interviews. For those who haven’t heard it, his appearance on the Howard Stern Show was particularly savage. And, while his opinions may not sit easy with some, after watching THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND, it is impossible deny his incredible talent.

Co-written by Davidson, Judd Apatow, and David Sirus, and directed by Apatow, THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND tells the tale of the broken Scott Carlin (Davidson.) Content to spend his days smoking weed with his pals, and living at home with his mother (Marisa Tomei) and his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), he clings to the fleeting aspiration of becoming a successful tattoo artist. With no avenue in which to practice his craft, other than his friends and the occasional underage child in the park, the dream seems like little more than a frivolous afterthought in a lifetime of lounging.

While Claire is set to head to college, Scott is floundering. Unable to cope with the loss of his father, who, as a firefighter, died when Scott was young, he is afflicted with rage and bouts of depression that leave him questioning his very existence. Despite spending time with Kelsey (Bel Powley), he is unable to commit to a relationship, and seems to content to wallow away his days in the vicious cycle of self-loathing and boredom.

Apatow, who is known for films like THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP, and TRAINWRECK, has crafted story that treads the line between comedy and drama. With Davidson as co-writer, it is a semi-autobiographical take on what may have happened to him had he not found success as a stand-up comic. The injection of these elements (Davidson’s father, for example, passed away as a first responder on 9/11) gives a personalized touch that makes Scott far more bearable. Whereas 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP featured lovable losers that win over the audience by the end, there is no real element of that here. Scott is combative and opinionated, unabashedly content to tear down those around him, regardless of the cost. When his mom starts dating firefighter Ray Bishop (an absolutely incredible Bill Burr) he will do anything within his powers to destroy the relationship in order to secure his place in the home. His mother’s happiness is of secondary importance to his ability to never leave home. So, while this is a redemption story in many ways, it’s never going to provide audiences with same joy that procured from the aforementioned productions.

The fact that Scott isn’t the easiest character to get behind makes THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND all the more impressive. Clocking in at over two hours, it never feels like a slog, and kept my attention throughout. Davidson shows impressive range (as both a performer and a writer) and the entire cast is spectacular. Burr, who is best known as a stand-up comedian (and for his turn in BREAKING BAD) is a powerhouse, delivering the type of unexpected supporting performance that begs for award season attention. Tomei, as has become customary, is a fierce, fiery presence that serves as an excellent foil to Davidson’s seething Scott. She loves her son, and is determined to help him turn his life around, but refuses to forgo her own happiness in lieu of appeasing his impossible whims. Finally, there is Maude Apatow. As the daughter of the director, some will see her name and cry nepotism. If this is the case, there’s no chance they’ve actually seen this movie. The actress, who was most recently seen in HBO’S EUPHORIA and NETFLIX’s HOLLYWOOD, makes the most of her limited time on screen. As perhaps the one person who has the most influence over Scott, and certainly the one he adores the most, she is the anchor he desperately needs, but who is also looking towards starting her own life and emerging from his looming shadow. She more than holds her own in a sea of dynamic performances, and an imperative cog that helps turn the wheel in this complex comedy.

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND- B

(Now available on multiple video-on-demand platforms.)

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.