What I’ve always appreciated about writer/director Judd Apatow is that he’s able to bring a layer of depth and complexity to dumb, fun comedies. Movies such as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Trainwreck are raunchy comedies, of course, but they also have something more to say about their characters; they focus on people with cases of arrested development who struggle to mature. In many ways, Apatow’s films tap into a universal feeling we all share to some extent: an apprehension towards growing up.
Apatow’s latest film, The King of Staten Island, is no different. The movie tells the story of Scott (Pete Davidson), the 24-year-old son of a deceased firefighter who passed away when Scott was 7. Struggling with mental health issues, Scott has been unable to move forward in life. However, everything Scott knows completely overturns when his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei), begins dating a man (Bill Burr) for the first time in 17 years.
Davidson co-writes and co-produces this movie, and it is clear that so much of his personal story is deeply embedded in the film. It feels as if we are getting a raw and intimate look into who Davidson is; his thoughts and experiences. One of the oldest screenwriting tips in the book is to “write what you know,” and there’s a reason why it is so effective. I have always felt that some of the best art comes from a place of someone simply telling their story because what are movies if not the stories of people’s lives?
While playing a version of yourself isn’t necessarily the greatest litmus test for one’s thespianism, Davidson is fantastic in the leading role; he brings with him his dark and dry sense of humor and a willingness to scathingly call out other people’s B.S. Scott is a character who is seemingly always getting in his way; he keeps telling people he is not ready to move up in the world — to get a job or get his apartment — because he’s still trying to “figure his s*** out.” The more he repeats this mantra, the more he puts off the next stage of his life.
Bill Burr plays Margie’s new boyfriend, Ray, who also happens to be a firefighter. This is what immediately pits Scott against him, as he can’t understand why his mother would put herself in a position to potentially lose another significant other. Burr has some of the greatest lines in the movie, and brings his classic chaotic Masshole energy to the character. As Scott spends more time with Ray, however, he begins to see different sides of him.
Putting all of the character development aside, if The King of Staten Island wasn’t funny, it simply wouldn’t work. Luckily, this movie is hysterical. I was laughing all the way through, as I immediately tapped into the film’s style of humor. The comedy isn’t necessarily as graphic as some of Apatow’s other movies, but rather it comes from a place of finding the levity in regular human interaction.
One complaint I have been hearing about this film is that it is too long. With a 2-hour-and-16-minute runtime, it falls in line with Apatow’s habit of making comedies that are over 2 hours. The movie certainly could have been edited down, but I personally don’t mind the runtime. I enjoy hanging out in this world and spending time with these characters, so I am perfectly fine with it being as long as it is. I do, however, completely understand why someone might say it is overstuffed.
An area where The King of Staten Island really could have improved upon is its diversity. Outside of Scott’s friend, Richie (Lou Wilson), and a couple of background characters, there are no people of color in the film. Considering the amount of supporting characters who pop up throughout the movie, there are plenty of missed opportunities to cast more non-white actors.
Overall, The King of Staten Island is a fantastic movie. It’s very well written and incredibly funny. You immediately buy into all of the characters, and the performances bringing them to life are great. There is a lot of strong character development, as Apatow breathes new life into the formula he uses for a lot of his movies. This is a film I can see myself rewatching a lot. I think it may just be my new favorite movie of the year.
If you’re a fan of Judd Apatow’s movies or Pete Davidson, or if you’re just looking for a good comedy to make you laugh, I’d highly recommend watching The King of Staten Island. It is available now to rent on VOD.
Author: Nathanael Molnar, originally published [6/15/2020]