Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The King of Staten Island

Pete Davidson is the centrepiece of this semi-autobiographical dramatic/comedic epic and he’s uncomfortably strong, but as it’s directed by Judd Apatow, it drones on and on for 45 minutes too long.

Another victim of COVID-19 delays, this was co-written and co-produced by ‘controversial’ Saturday Night Live player Davidson as a deliberate attempt to, perhaps, come to terms with his tragic and somewhat ugly life – but then he let director, co-writer and co-producer Apatow get involved and the whole thing spun out of control.

The prolific Apatow, whose movies as director (Trainwreck, This Is 40, Funny People) all drastically need cutting back (sometimes with garden shears), simply doesn’t know when to stop, meaning that this often feels as aimless and frustrating as its central character.

Scott Carlin (Pete) is a 24-year-old high school dropout who lives with his long-suffering nurse Mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow, Judd’s daughter) in the family home on a depressing-looking Staten Island. Scott has a series of medical problems, including Crohn’s Disease (just like Pete), and smokes a lot of dope to deal with the pain, as he wastes days sitting around watching TV (and the recent sequel The First Purge, which features Tomei, oddly enough).

Scott’s late Dad was a firefighter who was killed in a hotel fire when Scott was young, and although he pretends not to be affected by it, his whole life has been affected and coloured by the grief. And this is the biggest Scott/Pete blurring, because Pete’s Dad Scott Davidson was a fireman who was killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks, when Pete was only seven years old. The movie is dedicated to him and, it seems, the whole thing is intended as a slightly strange tribute.

English actor Bel Powley is Kelsey, an old friend of Scott’s, and their relationship has recently turned sexual, although the self-defeating, cynical Scott thinks she’s way too good for him. And there’s so much else going on as well: Scott is forced to get a lowly busboy job in a restaurant run by family friend Joe (indie-pic mainstay Kevin Corrigan); our (anti-)hero hopes to one day be a tattoo artist despite little discipline, and wants to open a tattoo-parlour-cum-restaurant (!); and his besties eventually convince him to be part of one of those robberies that couldn’t possibly go wrong.

The most important thread here, though, involves a local firefighter named Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), who meets Margie through peculiar means and with whom she starts a tender relationship, much to Scott’s horror. He tries everything to split them up, insisting that they’re disrespecting his late Dad’s memory, but we know that this is more about his own inability to deal with his pain. Later scenes where Scott mixes with New York firemen (one of whom is portrayed by a snarky Steve Buscemi, who was actually a fireman before he became an actor) demonstrate that he might be growing up and getting over himself, but for him it’s always going to be an uphill battle.

As it apparently will for Pete too. He’s frequently excellent here and certainly looks the part, alternately appearing wired, sick, somnambulant or enraged (at one point Kelsey says he’s like “an anorexic panda”), and you have to admit that it took guts to put so much of your turbulent life onscreen. And so convincingly play a hot mess.

A shame that Judd Apatow was the director, but then you can’t have everything – as Scott and Pete both know all too well.

Reviewer Rating

The King Of Staten Island (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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