Compiling all of Judd Apatow films together would leave you with enough fully-grown man-babies to fill a very questionable nursery. Looking back at the likes of The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, stats show that some of his greatest moments were watching grown-ass dudes getting their collective shit together and earning a few laughs along the way for good measure. The King of Staten Island homes another gent who fits into just such a category, but this royal mess of a man makes it clear during a lonely drive down the highway that we’re in for a far more mature Apatow entry than those that came before it.
The earnest edge of The King of Staten Island swings in from HRH himself, SNL star Pete Davidson who plays Scott, a 20-something couch-dweller who lost his firefighter father at seven years old (Davidson suffered the same tragedy with his Dad on 9/11). It’s a wound that understandably, Scott has struggled to heal from and as a result, has become an unemployed burden on his mother (Marisa Tomei) who is still battling with the loss in her way, as well. Tensions soon rise though, when Mom brings home a new hotshot fireman (Bill Burr) that hopes to win her heart and lend a hand in giving Scott the necessary nudge to fly the nest, rather than spend all day getting high and perfecting his tattoo artistry on his equally sketchy mates.
It’s immediately present that Davidson is tackling both the character and the issues he’s bound to with a raw honesty that seems almost cathartic.
There’s a lot to be pulled from The King of Staten Island that echoes Apatow’s past efforts. That well-used formula of having mates inhaling the same questionable airspace and ribbing each other with every breath they take is what he built his career on, and here it’s no different, bar one crucial element. At the centre of it all, is Davidson, on a very different level from the Rogen’s and Rudd’s that have come before, not just for being a different generation, but with very complex and severe issues. It’s immediately present that he’s tackling both the character and the grief he’s bound to with a raw honesty that seems almost cathartic, which in turn feels like a break from routine from Apatow. The laughs cushion the blows of reality that hit Scott. When he’s alone going through his Dad’s clothes or reflecting on his failures every so often there’s a punchline that lands just right. Other times through the film lingers on moments of sorrow or grief because just like life, it’s just no laughing matter.
With that said, the effort to keep hold of that balance isn’t an easy one, and it takes some supporting force from the rest of the cast to allow Davidson to maintain it. After a few slumps in the first act that don’t hit the pace The King of Staten Island is itching to reach, everything picks up the second sparks start to fly between Ray (Bill Burr) and Margie (Tomei) which Scott is desperate to dampen. As a result, it leads to Burr and Davidson clashing in moments that establish the film is at its finest. Their friction makes for absolute gold, and while amusing, touches on the side of awkward with a realistic bite, most of which is refereed by Steve Buscemi as fire chief to Papa (a welcome presence, as well). Adding something extra special though is Bel Powley as Scott’s on and off flame, Kelsey. Stealing every scene she yells in, The Morning Show star easily tackles being the girl you pray Scott will straighten himself out for; that looks past the grief-stricken goof that’s quick to self-ridicule and show there’s more to life than a death to continue hurting over.
That’s the message that The King of Staten Island aims to deliver and does so impressively. For those hoping for an Apatow entry that’s amusing as the ones that came before it, you’re going to be surprised – and that’s a good thing. This might be one of the director’s top tier efforts in quite some time, with a funny frontman that is giving it his all. Watch the throne.