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VOD Review: The King of Staten Island

June 12, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Pete Davidson, the heavily tattooed Saturday Night Live star who has attracted his share of both controversy and dedicated fans over the years for his unique brand of stand-up comedy, takes centre stage in The King of Staten Island, which he co-wrote and based on his own life.

The film is directed by Judd Apatow, who previously helped turn Steve Carell and Seth Rogen into leading men in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, respectively. It also happens to be Apatow’s best film since Funny People over a decade ago, and like that 2009 Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen dramedy, The King of Staten Island offers a satisfying mix of humour and heart.

The film centres around Scott Carlin (Davidson), an aspiring tattoo artist in his mid-twenties who lives in his mom’s basement and spends his time smoking weed and hanging out with his deadbeat buddies. Scott has been drifting through life ever since his firefighter father died in the line of duty when he was seven, an event directly inspired by Davidson’s own life, who lost his firefighter father in 9/11.

Scott’s younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is heading off to college, and is already starting to surpass him in life. He’s sleeping with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley), but doesn’t want to label their relationship, afraid of committing to anything serious. A loose plot emerges in the film when, through an odd series of circumstances, Scott’s mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) meets and starts dating a local firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr). Feeling like his mother is trying to replace his dad, with another firefighter no less, Scott becomes jealous and starts trying to intervene in the relationship.

Over the course of the film, Scott must take the first steps towards growing up, and a big part of his character arc involves finally coming to terms with the loss of his father. Davidson is playing a version of himself, and he brings a raw vulnerability to the role, portraying a character who uses sardonic humour to mask his pain. Davidson has made no secret of his substance use and struggles with mental health in real life, and these are openly talked about in the film as well.

Where as Apatow’s Funny People was about confronting mortality, and revealed fresh sides of Adam Sandler’s acting range, The King of Staten Island is, on a deeper level, a film about overcoming trauma and grief, and reveals new shades of what Davidson is capable of. It’s a very strong performance that was presumably quite therapeutic for him to perform and write, (he shares screenplay credits with Apatow and SNL writer Dave Sirus), and he is equally good in the film’s comedic and dramatic scenes, especially in moments when Scott is struggling with his self-worth, beats that he performs quite well.

In terms of the supporting cast, Steve Buscemi does wonderful work as Papa, an older firefighter who knew Scott’s father and takes on a sort of mentor role. Buscemi’s biggest moment is a beautifully written scene in the second half that serves as one of the film’s best moments, as it walks a knife’s edge between being tender, touching and hilarious. Burr has some very funny moments where he spars with Davidson, and it’s also worth singling out Powley, who makes the most of her supporting role and brings a nice sense of depth to her character.

Like all of Apatow’s films, The King of Staten Island at times has the feel of a sprawling, free-wheeling hangout movie, and there are various subplots and story threads which don’t all get resolved. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an even longer cut floating around somewhere, and as it is, the film runs for a whopping 137 minutes long. But this running time also helps us get to know the characters, and by the end of it, I was actually enjoying the film so much that I didn’t really want it to end. There are several truly wonderful moments sprinkled throughout, and it all builds to a few final scenes that are actually quite sweet.

Like its central star, The King of Staten Island is a little rough around the edges, but it’s got a rugged charm to it that I found compelling. The film is often very funny, with Davidson capable of delivering some killer punchlines, but it’s the emotional undercurrent of the film that strings it all together. As a comedy with something deeper and more dramatic going on underneath, and as an excellent showcase for Davidson’s unique talents, The King of Staten Island emerges triumphant.

The King of Staten Island is now available to rent on a variety of digital and VOD platforms, for the premium price of $19.99.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    June 15, 2020 2:25 pm

    hey John!! William and I watched this last night and thought it was fantastic. funny but had its serious moments. Not sure if you knew but Steve Buscemi was a firefighter when he was younger and although I think he had moved on to acting when 911 occurred, he dropped everything and helped out with one of the stations during this time. Another connection where the lines between the movie and real life are blurred. Anyways love the review.


    • June 15, 2020 3:37 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Heather! Glad you guys enjoyed the film. It’s interesting to know that Steve Buscemi used to be a firefighter, really makes me appreciate his role here even more. There are so many ways this movie connects to real life, and that’s one of the things I really liked about it. I agree, it’s a fantastic film!


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