Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson’s newest film, The King of Staten Island, is a warm, heartfelt comedy that felt like it was made for the at home viewing experience. While it is certainly not a perfect movie by any means, its strengths outweigh its flaws.
The King of Staten Island tells a story that is largely based on Davidson’s life. In the film, Davidson plays a character named Scott who lives at home with his widowed mother, played by Marissa Tomei. Scott’s father in the film was a firefighter and died in the line of duty while he was young. This is very similar to Davidson’s own experience, his firefighter father died in 9/11. The movie explores how Scott, who is dealing with the loss of his father and a mental illness, attempts to navigate his way through life as his sister (Maude Apatow) moves off to college and his mother starts a relationship with a man named Ray (Bill Burr). Like many of Apatow films, The King of Staten Island is less of a plot-driven vehicle and more of a slice-of-life movie, in which the audience gets a detailed look into the life and emotional journey of the main character.
Any review of this film would have to start and end with a discussion on Apatow and Davidson. In recent years, through projects like HBO’s Crashing and the Oscar nominated The Big Sick, Apatow has seemingly made it a mission of his to assist younger comedians in telling personal stories based on their real lives. Crashing was born out of the experiences that its star, Pete Holmes, had undergone after he and his wife divorced near the beginning of his stand-up career. And The Big Sick captured a traumatic event that its screenwriters, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, found themselves in during the early stages of their relationship. The King of Staten Island is another example of Apatow’s ability to shepherd younger comedians into translating their story to the screen. As I noted earlier, this film is somewhat autobiographical for Davidson, who wrote the screenplay alongside Apatow and Dave Sirus. As I watching this film, I found myself being really impressed with how vulnerable Davidson gets with his performance. This is by far the best he has ever been in a film. In much of Davidson’s other cinematic work, I found that he always seemed to just be playing himself instead of the character he was supposed to be portraying. But that actually is a strength when it comes to a film like The King of Staten Island, and a character that is based on himself. Davidson floats through this film with an effortless charisma that leads to the audience rooting for him to succeed, even after we watch him make mistake after mistake. Davidson’s magnetism on screen in this film sheds light on why he’s not only had a great deal of success as a comedian and actor, but also become a massive celebrity figure as well.
From a directing standpoint, I felt that Apatow was able to blend comedy and drama in this film better than he had in his last few projects. In many ways, that ability to merge ridiculous comedy with poignant observations about the human condition is Apatow’s trademark. And in The King of Staten Island, he’s operating near the top of his abilities. This film has more than a few genuinely hilarious moments, but it’s ever-apparent heart is still noticeable in nearly every scene. Due to the personal nature of the plot, its easy for the emotional moments in this film to affect the viewer a little extra, especially if you are familiar with Davidson’s story. But still, I found myself laughing at this film more than I have in many other at home comedy viewings. The dialogue is very well-written and the cast is filled with gifted comedic actors who not only have great chemistry, but great timing as well.
Obviously, this film was originally meant to play in theaters. Universal made the decision to release it on PVOD due to the current coronavirus pandemic. While I have written many times about how I miss the theater experience during this strange time, I think that The King of Staten Island is a great movie for this format. I still would have rather been able to enjoy the comedic moments in this film with a crowd. However, the simple nature of the story and slice-of-life aspect of this film made it a very easy and enjoyable watch at home. If I had my choice, I still definitely would have preferred to see this movie in a theater. But, I’m grateful to receive any new, entertaining content during quarantine right now. And being given this film and Da 5 Bloods on the same day made this weekend feel like the first important film weekend in a very long time, which I appreciated.
Much like with all of Apatow’s films, the length of The King of Staten Island must be discussed. This film’s official runtime is 136 minutes, and while I didn’t find the length to be as problematic as it has been for some of Apatow’s other films, it definitely could have been cut down. There are certain plot points, one specific one involving a robbery, that felt like they definitely could have been cut for time because they just don’t go anywhere or add a lot to the story. Also, it felt like this movie came to an end about three or four different times in the last 20 minutes or so, which I found somewhat disorienting. I do want to point out though that I found the actual closing moments of this film to be very well done. I appreciated the fact that they decided to end this movie on a realistic note. The Scott character certainly has an expansive and well-thought-out arc throughout this film, but the movie knows it can’t just make everything magically okay in the closing moments. The ending felt like real life because while things are heading in a better direction for Scott, they’re still not perfect.
When it comes to what other issues I had with this film, I found myself wishing it would have explored some of its themes in greater depth. Specifically, I would have liked to seen more of an exploration into the relationship between Davidson’s character and his mother played by Tomei. Davidson’s relationship to his mother in real life is clearly very important to him, and I felt like there was a lot more to be discovered in the film. Honestly, I would be harsher on this criticism when it comes to other films. But since this film is based so largely on Davidson’s life and his own trauma, I respect the fact that some things would have been too difficult to include.
All in all, I think The King of Staten Island is absolutely worth watching. It is Apatow’s best film in a while, and it is the best Davidson has ever been in a movie as well. In terms of brand new content, it will be one of the easiest and most enjoyable at home viewing experiences you’ll have during quarantine.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5