“The King of Staten Island” is the latest comedy from Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck,” “Funny People,” “Knocked Up”) which was set to debut at SXSW this year.
It stars SNL’s Pete Davidson playing a fictionalized version of himself, a 24-year-old man-child living in S.I. with his mother (Marisa Tomei) and hanging out with a bunch of stoner friends. The goofy yet charming Davidson and a great supporting cast generate plenty of laughs, but the film also has a sentimental side that deals with loss in a way that doesn’t dampen the tone, it celebrates life.
Scott (Pete Davidson) dreams of one day opening up a tattoo-restaurant, where diners watch people get inked while enjoying a nice meal. Yes, it’s a horrible idea that’s only made worse by the fact that Scott isn’t a very good artist. As his friend Ritchie (Lou Wilson) puts it “Your work is mad inconsistent, Obama ain’t right” describing the tattoo Scott gave him of 44 which resembles a melting Frank Gorshin.
Davidson’s character Scott mirrors his own life, both grew up in Staten Island and both lost their dad, a firefighter, at the age of 7. In the film, the roof collapsed on Scott’s dad while fighting a fire while in real life Davidson’s father died in the 9/11 attacks. Knowing that, gives the viewer a different experience. You can’t help but wonder how much of the film is actually based on Davidson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Apatow and Dave Sirus, an Emmy-nominated writer for Saturday Night Live.
It’s been 17 years since Scott’s father passed away, but his presence is still felt in the home shared with mom Margie (Marisa Tomei), in part due to the huge shrine dedicated to him in a corner of the home. Tomei is terrific in the role of the ER and school nurse who begins to date again after meeting Ray (Bill Burr), a recent divorcee whose first encounter with Margie is not pleasant after visiting her home to complain about Scott giving his 9-year old son Harold (Luke David Blumm) a tattoo. Ray is also a firefighter which really angers Scott, “the first guy you date in 17 years is a fireman just like that, you don’t think that’s weird?!”
Burr, a standup comedian who’s special “Paper Tiger” is available on Netflix, almost steals every scene and that’s without being funny. It’s a very dramatic role. Ray’s separation from his ex (Pamela Adlon) didn’t go smoothly, she considers him a deadbeat with a gambling problem, but he treats Margie well. He’s always a gentleman, loving and respectful (although he’s a huge sports fan who tends to drive everyone crazy with his analogies), and he seems to be a good father to his two kids.
Apatow has a knack for taking a funny actor and keeping him or her the center of attention while surrounded by a superb supporting cast. Amy Schumer had Bill Hader, Brie Larson, and Mike Birbiglia in “Trainwreck” while Steve Carell had Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, and Elizabeth Banks as costars in “The 40 Year-Old Virgin.”
“The King of Staten Island” features two good supporting casts. First, there’s Scott’s group of slacker friends who smoke weed all day and play basketball at abandoned buildings. Ricky Velez plays the group’s leader Oscar who joins level-headed Ritchie and the lovable Igor ( Moises Arias) as Scott’s crew. The females are led by the always exceptional Bel Powley as Scott’s love interest Kelsey. They’ve known each other since grade school and while Scott is stuck at being a man-child, Kelsey wants more out of life including a serious relationship and job as a city planner to make Staten Island the next big tourist attraction. The scenes with these bunch of misfits are the film’s funniest with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments.
The second supporting cast, the group of firefighters that work alongside Ray, give the film warmth as they take Scott in once Margie kicks him out of the house. Led by Steve Buscemi as the senior officer known to everyone as Papa (in a role more endearing than “The Big Lebowski’s” Donny) the sentimental moments at the fire station are authentic as the camaraderie amongst these everyday heroes is felt by the audience and Scott who begins to view life from his father’s point of view. It’s here during the film’s second half that Apatow creates more than just a comedy, it’s a celebration of life that pays tribute to the brave men and women who risk their lives daily.
At 136 minutes, the film could have used a shorter running time, especially during the second half. The cast is rounded out by Maude Apatow (Judd’s daughter) as Scott’s college-bound sister who spent her whole life protecting Scott (who suffers from A.D.D. and Crohn’s disease) from himself, and Kevin Corrigan as Scott’s rich uncle Joe who gives him a job at his Italian restaurant where the busboys and waiters put on Hulk hands at the end of the night to fight for tips.
With the right mixture of comedy and drama, “The King of Staten Island” is another home run for Apatow with Pete Davidson showing even more range as an actor. It’s funny, sentimental, and authentic.