The King of Staten Island
Starring Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, Maude Apatow
Saturday Night Live and tabloid sensation Pete Davidson plays Scott Carlin like a cartoon character that’s been brought to life for the first time. The King of Staten Island is written by Davidson, based on his own misadventures of losing his father who was a firefighter. Judd Apatow’s niche is taking serious subjects like Unexpected Pregnancies, Mid Life Crises, or Fat Shaming and adding a comedic element to them. You could say he makes them funny, but that’s subjective. Barf scenes, casual sex talk and Apatow’s love of the “F” word used over five times in every sentence are just a few of the usual’s you find in The King of Staten Island. However the director’s signature element of an overextended running time (137 minutes), is really the undoing.
Scott Carlin (Davidson) is a 24-year-old high school dropout, covered in tattoos who still lives with his mom (Tomei), content with doing drugs all day and withholding his feelings from Kelsey (Powley) who is a longtime friend that’s turned into a casual sex buddy with the others aren’t looking. With his sister (Maude Apatow) off to college, Scott’s more erratic and troublesome than usual. His latest antic, tattooing a 9-year-old, introduces the boy’s father, Fireman Ray Bishop (Burr) to his mom, Margie Carlin. “You have a type,” Scott accuses his mom. With mom dating again, her tolerance for Scott’s behavior dwindles resulting in his expulsion from the house and in turn, his comfort zone.
For much of the compulsive two hours, it’s just Davidson’s character wandering, having pointless conversations that rarely take shape into the plot.
Much of Davidson’s performance is improvised or ad lib onto his scripted dialogue, which isn’t surprising given his achievements on SNL. Oscar winner Tomei (Spider-Man Far From Home) grounds the film, scenes where Davidson is off screen, start to feel like the film is taking some sort of shape when it pivots to her point of view. For much of the compulsive two hours, it’s just Davidson’s character wandering, having pointless conversations that rarely take shape into the plot. The love/hate relationship with Staten Island isn’t dissimilar to what Greta Gerwig did with Sacramento in Lady Bird, but Davidson and Apatow use the New York Borough more like an excuse than a character.
In the last thirty minutes ‘Staten Island’ finally begins to take the shape of a redemption story. The drugs and antics are put aside and we close in on the origin of this story in the first place. A surprising bond is created between two unlikely characters in which this troubled man-child finally receives some decent parenting. Buscemi only has a handful of scenes in the latter portion of the film, but like Tomei, he helps bring the film back from feeling like a skit. In many ways, ‘Staten Island’ is the autobiographical fiction genre Honey Boy was conceived in. The difference between the effectiveness of the two projects is the genre in which they are told.
Apatow’s latest, like his previous, is overlong, leaning more towards obnoxious than compelling.