More than any other director working today, you know exactly what you’re going to get when you sit down for a Judd Apatow film.
“The King of Staten Island” stars Pete Davidson as Scott, a 20-something aspiring tattoo artist with a case of arrested development who is still coping with the death of his firefighter father 17 years earlier. When his mom (Marisa Tomei) begins dating a new guy who is also a firefighter (Bill Burr), it forces Scott to begin to get his life together. Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, and Steve Buscemi also star as Judd Apatow directs a script he wrote with Davidson and Dave Sirus.
Like “Scoob!” and “The High Note,” this film was originally supposed to get a theatrical release before COVID shut down all theaters, and the studio opted to try out the demand for streaming rentals (Universal, the company distributing this film, also made waves by doing it with “Trolls World Tour”). It’s an interesting venture to be sure, and some of the enjoyment of seeing a comedy in a crowded theater will surely be missed, but like most Apatow films “The King of Staten Island” has heart and laughs, even if it is longer and at times a bit more aimless than it has to be.
Pete Davidson has gone from the babyface on SNL to the (somewhat controversial?) tattooed ex-fiancé of popstar Ariana Grande in five short years. He has shown up in several films in small supporting roles (including Apatow’s last directorial effort “Trainwreck”), but besides “Big Time Adolescence” has never been asked to shoulder the leading load. Davidson surely relates to Scott, as when he was young Davidson lost his firefighting father on 9/11, and also has a lot of tattoos and faced bouts of depression. I’m sure the role was somewhat therapeutic to him, and his portrayal of a man-child with several mental issues is done with a nice balance of respectful and honest. I’m not a huge follower of Davidson (I think he’s funny but just sometimes swings and misses), but he does a good job here crafting the character and delivering some funny lines.
The supporting cast are all solid as well, although none of them are truly given any arcs or development. “Hot Aunt May” Marisa Tomei is always a welcome presence in anything, and Bill Burr does a good job as “mom’s new boyfriend.” A few other people pop up here and there that will make you go “oh, I like that person!” like in most of Apatow’s films, but this is Davidson’s show.
Like with every single one of his films, Judd Apatow’s problem is he refuses to trim the scope of his narrative and/or dare cut out anything he wrote. This film is 137 minutes long, which isn’t bad in its own right but just seems excessive for a studio comedy. What’s more is there is a subplot in here that takes up minimum ten minutes and leads absolutely nowhere, and I don’t think produces enough laughs to even justify keeping it in. Still, aside from that, Apatow does craft a pretty decent pace, and even handles a few dramatic and intense scenes with good skill.
I enjoyed “The King of Staten Island” and it is another entry into the “perfectly solid” filmography of Apatow. It has its random and at times out-of-place vulgar humor, but there are a handful of hearty laughs to be shared and Davidson turns in solid work in the lead role (if there are even award shows next year this will hopefully land him a Golden Globe nod). We all need a laugh now more than ever, and this film helps a little bit with that.
Critics Rating: 7/10