The latest film from director Judd Apatow (who co-wrote this with lead actor Pete Davidson) and is a comedy/drama based loosely on Davidson’s life.
We follow Scott (Davidson), a mid-20’s stoner who still lives with his mother, and lost his firefighter father when he was seven. He has aspirations of becoming a tattoo artist but in reality, he just spends his days smoking weed and shooting the shit with his mates. As you will notice from this brief synopsis, this is definitely in the Apatow wheelhouse; a film featuring slackers who have lofty aspirations but don’t really do much about achieving them. And this is where this film’s real strength kicks in; it’s relatability.
How many people do you know who had career aspirations but didn’t really want to put in the work to make it there? Or who had a genuine talent but not the work ethic to match said talent? Hell, I was that person (or maybe I still am?) The point is everyone who watches this can relate to it on a personal level because we all know someone, or are that someone, and that helps us connect with our main character. You root for him to make it just like you support your friends to make it, or you want to get out of your own personal rut. This would all be a moot point if the lead performance didn’t work, but I can happily say that Pete Davidson really delivers.
I’m quite (happily) surprised at how good Davidson actually was in this. On SNL and in his stand-up specials, he has a monotone delivery and borders on emotionless. But here, he delivers a performance that at times is funny, sad and heartwarming. It really is a showcase for how talented Davidson actually is, which he may not get to show on SNL.
Speaking of stand-up comedians that I didn’t think would have great dramatic acting chops but I was wrong about, Bill Burr is fantastic in this. He plays a firefighter who knew Scott’s father, and also starts dating Scott’s mother, creating an interesting dynamic that will actually make up the majority of the film’s plot. Burr and Davidson have fantastic chemistry too. They share the screen a lot and you actually believe everything about their complicated relationship. In fact, Burr has great chemistry with everyone he shares the screen with, including Marisa Tomei and the other firefighters.
If you think this movie only consists of these two stand-up comedians-turned solid actors, you’d be mistaken as they’re supported by a great supporting cast as well. Marisa Tomei, who plays Scott’s mother, has the unenviable task of playing a woman who loves her son unconditionally but is also disappointed in where he’s at in life, and she nails it. I do feel as though she was treated as a bit of an afterthought in the second half of the film, once Burr and Davidson start to dominate the screentime, but she kills it with the time she gets. And speaking of afterthoughts, I have to admit I am a bit disappointed in the lack of…anything that screen legend and REAL FORMER FIREFIGHTER Steve Buscemi is given to do. I like him but I’m also biased. His role feels a waste though. Wrapping up the supporting cast is Bel Powley who, with her super strong accent, dominates the screen in the little time she is on. She’s equal parts funny and sweet and while she doesn’t have a huge role, it is a very important one as she is pretty much the catalyst for Scott to turn his life around.
I’ve been mostly positive so far, and for good reason, but this is far from perfect. It is a Judd Apatow vehicle so it suffers from the typical “Apatow-isms”. Yes, it does follow a pretty common formula with some very familiar storyline beats. Yes, it is about 20 minutes too long. But it does also have a lot of heart, one of the more positive “Apatow-isms.” Mental illness features quite a bit in this, as Davidson suffers from depression in real life and brought it to his character, and I think they treat it with respect here. It is yet another thing that adds to the relatability of the film.
An engrossing story, great performances and a whole lot of heart make The King of Staten Island worthy of a watch when it releases on DVD and blu-ray next week (21/10/20). There is also a funny cameo from Action Bronson, just another reason to watch it.