Review: Judd Apatow's 'The King of Staten Island' with Pete Davidson
by Alex Billington
June 12, 2020
Did you want to be a fireman when you were growing up? Great! Now what if you turned out to be a stoner with nothing to offer the world aside from crappy tattoos? As surprising as it may seem, that does describe the main character in The King of Staten Island. But that's where he is at the start. There's a story to tell, and there's a reason to tell his story. It's not about giving up drugs and getting a job, but it sort of is. It's more about giving up laziness and getting a real life. Judd Apatow is back again with a new film starring a famous comedian, Pete Davidson, playing a character who isn't really him, but it's based on his life and his upbringing anyway. And it's good! Apatow kills it yet again with an authentic, original comedy. There's heaps of dark and dry humor, but it's not an all-out comedy, which I quite liked. It is impressive to make a film about a guy who is essentially a nobody from Staten Island yet it's seriously engaging and entertaining.
The King of Staten Island stars comedian Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin, who still lives with his mother, Margie played by Marisa Tomei, in his twenties. His younger sister is about to move out and go to college, but he is content just hanging out and getting stoned. Everything changes when he accidentally tattoos a random kid, gets in trouble, then his mother starts dating the father of the kid who yelled at Scott, who also happens to be a fireman like Scott's father (who tragically died in a fire years ago). It's kind of a coming-of-age story but with funky Pete Davidson as a 24-year-old bro who needs to grow up. And find some focus. Working with Apatow, the director gets the best he can out of Davidson for this particularly story. There are scenes where it's obvious he's just riffing, or trying to recreate a moment from his past, but it never gets in the way of the storytelling or the laugh out loud humor. And the rest of the cast supports him with affection.
Given that Apatow has a history of making great comedies about comedians, and given that Pete Davidson is a comedian, I was expecting this to be yet another comedy about a comedian. But it's not about a comedian, nor is it really a comedy. And that's the beauty of it. It's really about a slacker, stoner wannabe-tattoo-artist from Staten Island who learns to pick himself up and figure out what to do with his life. But it doesn't have that stern, heavy-handed attitude that most films that deal with this (and there are plenty) do. Thankfully there aren't any scenes where he gets a talking about being a stoner, other than jokes about how his diner-meets-tattoo-parlor idea isn't going to work. Instead, there's a tender side to this film, and an appreciation and understanding of the struggles each and every person has, and the challenges we face when trying to make sense of our lives. And that's encouraging. It's inspiring in its own hit-the-bong-then-go-to-work way.
Most importantly, the final 40 minutes or so of Apatow's The King of Staten Island are absolutely fantastic. Everything at the fire department, along with so many honest and heartfelt scenes. There's a segment when Scott rides along with them to a burning building, and it's such a beautiful tribute to the NYFD – and all fire departments, really – a way for us to appreciate their hard work. Maybe they joke around in the fire house all day, but when it comes to the real tough work, they're professionals. The film wonderfully comes together in this final act and makes it such a worthwhile story to tell. If you've been wondering what's the point of following this slacker kid, well now we know. There's this subtle spark of hope, a bit of optimism that makes me want to appreciate the potential in anyone, even a slacker. You can pretty much be a nobody, but still make a difference and mean something to the people that are around you. And we should never forget that.