REVIEW: The King of Staten Island – Pete Davidson Shines Like A Movie Star

Five years since his last film, Judd Apatow returns with The King of Staten Island. This team-up with Pete Davidson shows why Apatow is one of the best comedic filmmakers, with a nice summer treat in an unconventional summer movie season.

Judd Apatow might be the defining voice of comedy movies in the 21st century. As a director and producer he has left a mark on Hollywood movies that is still being felt to this day. Many of the biggest names in comedy films today are closely associated with him. Apatow has been a fixture of Hollywood comedies for over a decade now, yet he doesn’t rest on his laurels. He continues to push and grow as a filmmaker. He hasn’t just settled for making the same thing over and over again. Apatow has matured and so have his films. But unlike, say, Todd Phillips, who seemed to grow tired of making comedies so he could make ‘real movies,’ Apatow has grown the definition of what his comedies can be. The laughs are still there, they just aren’t as loud but are also more heartfelt and sincere.

One thing Apatow loves to do is find great comedians with interesting life stories, and give them a chance to dramatize their experiences into hilarious stories with effectively moving human drama. Films that can funny but also have a heart. Jason Segal’s breakup becoming Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Kumail Ninjani and Emily Gordon taking their story and turning it into The Big Sick. Apatow’s latest directorial films tend to take on this mentality. Funny People, while not autobiographical of one person, is more an amalgamation of many of Apatow’s friends who started in stand up. This Is 40 very much was Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s life as parents dramatized into a film. His previous directorial effort, Trainwreck, is loosely inspired by stories from Amy Schumer’s life. Now he teams up with SNL star Pete Davidson, taking the young star’s life to make The King of Staten Island, which debuted on VOD this weekend.

Pete Davidson stars as Scott, a fictionalized version of Davidson himself, an amateur tattoo artist who spends his days smoking weed with his friends. He lives at home with his mother Margie (Marissa Tomei). Shortly after his little sister moves off to college, Scott’s mom begins dating firefighter Ray (Bill Buhr), which reopens old wounds for Scott, whose father was also a firefighter and died when he was very young. As Ray moves into Margie’s life, Scott is forced to move his life forward and leave the comfort of home, learn to befriend Ray, and properly deal with the emotions left over from his deceased father.

When the project was first announced, a few eyebrows were raised. Apatow had taken on a more active role as a producer in recent years and hadn’t directed a feature film since Trainwreck in 2015. What about Pete Davidson, a young and relatively new member of SNL, brought Apatow on to direct? Well, for those who don’t know Pete Davidson’s father was a firefighter during 9/11 who sadly lost his life. Davidson has been very open about his battles with depression and how this moment had a major impact on him. For someone so young he has gone through a lot. Apatow takes on the project because while it’s about a funny guy and has comedic moments, Apatow approaches it as a drama with comedic bits, more so than any of his other pictures. This is Apatow working in the same vein as Funny People, or even his work on television with Freaks and Geeks. He isn’t afraid to let the serious moments take over, because he realizes life is full of both funny and sad truths, and you got to let them play out as such.

Like Apatow’s work in Funny People, he chooses not to shoot The King of Staten Island like a traditional comedy but more as a drama to get those smaller intimate moments. The cinematographer here is frequent Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator and Academy Award-winning Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), who brings a more naturalistic lighting and uses more handheld camera movements that invoke a smaller character piece.

The film’s runtime is a little over two hours. While that seems odd for a comedy, this is to the film’s benefit, as it really allows some scenes to breathe. We aren’t just moving from one joke to the next. The jokes are there, but the pacing is leisurely, fitting the mood and mindset of our main character. Smaller, more intimate moments happen and play out instead of being rushed over. An extended scene in the second act where Scott bonds with firefighters adds some levity, but also allows Scott to have some serious conversations with men who knew his father. These scenes in other filmmakers’ hands may have been cut for time to keep the tone up, but not with Apatow. Apatow knows these are just as important as the jokes.

Pete Davidson’s performance as Scott is really what sells the picture. Yes it is his story, but what’s really surprising is just how talented Davidson is as a dramatic actor. Honestly, he could easily make the pivot to more dramatic film work if he chose. He is able to dig down deep and deliver those truly sad moments. Even when his character should be unlikable, you can’t help but feel for the guy. There is pain behind his eyes, those of a scared little boy who lost his father at a young age. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s afraid to leave home because he loves his mom and the warm comfort he has at being in the home with her. It is safe from the outside world there. A scene happens late in the film when he notices the house is starting to look different, and the pain he feels when he notices the safety of his home is no more really breaks you. Yes, Scott should probably go out on his own and do something more with his life than watch Spongebob, but it is hard to say one doesn’t envy the warm comfort of being home.

Every summer needs a big comedy, but in recent years the summer comedy has become less of a big deal to the general public. Comedies do well, but they don’t really become break out hits as they did in the late 2000s. Now, most people go to television for comedy, or if we are being realistic, to memes and TikToks. Had King of Staten Island come out in theaters there is no indication it would have been a hit, and it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. But with a summer movie season that has been basically taken away, the presence of this film is a much-needed good time. Even on VOD, it still gives the illusion that there is still a summer movie season. If you want to see a new movie and forget a little bit about the outside reality, consider renting King of Staten Island. It is worth the cost.