REEL Review – The King of Staten Island (2020)

Director: Judd Apatow | Runtime: 2h 16mins | Comedy, Drama

Lazy and emotionally stunted Scott (Pete Davidson) is still affected heavily by his Dad’s death, who died in a fire when he was young. But when his Mum (Marisa Tomei) gets a new boyfriend (Bill Burr), Scott must face his future and what to do with it.

There is a certain predictability to Apatow’s work, usually a light-hearted tone while sometimes fixating on a stars particular brand of humour. Trainwreck (2015) is a prime example of this, giving Amy Schumer a platform to become a star, as well as Seth Rogen making a name for himself in Knocked Up (2007) as a slobbish but charismatic leading man. It’s that honourable idea of just wanting people to laugh in different ways, and despite Apatow’s limitations on this the people he has involved usually make up the difference. This time Apatow’s fanboy approach to comedy sees his focus turn to stand-up comedian and ex-SNL cast member Pete Davidson in The King of Staten Island. A movie that has a lot of heart when it wants to, but for the most part can’t find a balance between it’s comedy and the heavy problems they give the lead character.

Drawing from Pete Davidson’s own real-life (something he discusses with open arms), the film uses the death of his Firefighter Father and the deep-rooted issues that come from parental loss at such a young age. Davidson plays Scott, a young slacker who lacks any sense of direction. He’d rather smoke weed with his equally lazy friends than think about his future, and while Davidson fits this role well using his well known sarcasm to deflect any sense of responsibility, it’s the bigger problems that can’t find resolution in the film.

Most notably is the incoming Father figure Roy, who’s presence upsets Scott because of the potential replacement of his Father, and also pushes him to leave his Mother’s house. This is a problem the film continually struggles to deal with, whether it’s Scott’s fear of facing his Father’s death, or a fear of actually deciding what to do with his life. The two don’t come hand in hand, but the film believes that through comedic scenes with Davidson and Burr (that are funny with no real substance) they can achieve a satisfying conclusion to both at the same time. That’s not to say the two working together isn’t great to watch and that the latter part of the film spent in the fire station isn’t good, but it just seems like Apatow’s leans heavily on jokey scenes, and not enough on the film’s thematic motives, leaving the film confused about it’s own voice.

…Davidson is comfortable in the role made for him, and if the writing were a tad more honest the film wouldn’t slip up as much.

When Burr is introduced he is an angry Father, shouting and cursing at Scott’s doorstep because Scott happily tattooed his child. This is something that seems strange considering Scott is never painted as a directly bad person, just someone who is heavily flawed. He later declines robbing a pharmacy as well, but it’s difficult to see why someone who will happily tattoo a child finds a distinction between that and committing a crime. A couple of times the film can’t work out it’s own character, but thankfully Davidson is comfortable in the role made for him, and if the writing were a tad more honest the film wouldn’t slip up as much.

Luckily along with Davidson the entire cast is performing well with the limited screen time they are given. Tomei and Burr build early foundations through great chemistry, Scott’s ‘gang’ do well to keep up with Davidson’s humour, and the standout performance really does go to Bel Powley, who finds a lot of substance in the Girlfriend archetype. They all have small moments that make this film entertaining while giving it a lot of personality as well. Sure, the movie is really Davidson’s, but without such a sturdy support it could fall flat on it’s face.

The film might lack distinct character motivation, but you have to praise Davidson’s honesty in his role, wearing his heart on his ink-heavy sleeve. The film finds originality in the unique outlook on life that it’s star has, and despite it not being flawless there’s still joy to be found in the heavy sarcasm, and in the sentimental moments it’s characters share time and time again.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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