Review: ‘The King of Staten Island’ Has Fresh Davidson, Formulaic Apatow
By Daniel Rester
The King of Staten Island is the first Judd Apatow film in five years and his sixth narrative feature overall. The project is a star vehicle for young SNL star Pete Davidson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Apatow and Dave Sirus. It is partially based on Davidson’s own life, though names and situations are fictionalized. For instance, Davidon’s dad in real life was a firefighter who died on 9/11 while in the film his character’s dad died battling a hotel fire.
That character, Scott Carlin, is 24 and is still depressed from his father’s passing. He has failed to launch and spends most of his days smoking weed while dreaming of opening a tattoo-based restaurant. His friend and sexual partner, Kelsey (Bel Powley), wants Scott to commit to her. His mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), also wants him to grow up, especially after her daughter goes to college and Margie starts dating another firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr).
With his sixth film, Apatow’s same old techniques are starting to grow a little tired. He seems to always focus on childish adults between twenty and forty who learn a life lesson while he front-loads his comedy before aiming for emotions in the finale. Like those other projects, The King of Staten Island is at least thirty minutes too long as many of its meandering scenes add little to the overall impact. Apatow knows how to direct great scenes, but he has started getting in his own way for his past few films.
Despite Apatow not challenging himself, The King of Staten Island still goes down easy and has some funny and heartfelt moments. The cast really holds it together. Davidson mines dark humor and true pathos with Scott. Powley is equally as good as Kelsey, a loud-mouth character with warmth and determination. Burr and Tomei are also delightful, their chemistry believable throughout. Steve Buscemi also pops up and is perfectly cast as a wise firefighter; Buscemi used to be a firefighter before becoming one of our finest living character actors.
Scott is a deeply flawed man, but he remains worth rooting for. When we finally get to him turning his life around, it’s wonderful stuff. I just wish the middle section didn’t drag so much before getting there; there is a whole section involving a robbery that is mostly pointless. Still, Davidson shows that he has screen power and I’m interested to see where he goes next. I’m also still interested in seeing where Apatow goes next, but I might not be for long if he keeps going back to the same well.
My Grade: 7.3/10 (letter grade equivalent: B)
MPA Rating: R (for language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images)
Running Time: 2h 16min
USA Release Date: June 12th, 2020 (VOD)