The King of Staten Island
Posted on June 11, 2020 at 3:13 pmB-
|Lowest Recommended Age:||Mature High Schooler|
|MPAA Rating:||Rated R for language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images|
|Profanity:||Constant very strong and crude language|
|Alcohol/ Drugs:||Drinking, drugs|
|Violence/ Scariness:||Some violence, fires, sad death, suicide attempt|
|Date Released to Theaters:||June 12, 2020|
Here we go again. Another too-long Judd Apatow movie about an arrested development, failure to launch man-child we are expected to find far more endearing than we do. “The King of Staten Island” shares these essential ingredients with earlier films like “The 40-year-old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” and one more: the main character played by a charismatic comedian or comic actor. In Apatow’s earlier films, those actors have included Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and Seth Rogen. This time, it is stand-up comedian and SNL cast member Pete Davidson.
But there are a couple of significant differences between the sunny sensibility of those glossy Hollywood confections and “The King of Staten Island,” with the significance of its setting reflected in the title. It’s not sunny. It’s dingy and gritty, with the help of superb cinematography from Robert Elswit, and very little music on the soundtrack. And the reasons that the main character is stuck in a perpetual directionless funk of helplessness, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, self-harm, numbness, and weed, are darker, much darker because we know the story is semi-autobiographical.
Normally, I might describe a film like this as the co-writer/star working through some issues (as, say, in Shia LeBoeuf’s “Honey Boy,” where he played his own abusive father). But it is not clear that Pete Davidson is working through much here, except to the extent he is re-enacting some of what has happened to him. Davidson is currently living at home with his mother, as we see (literally) in his appearances, some with her, in the videos he shoots for the pandemic-era SNL episodes. Davidson was seven when his fireman father was killed on 9/11. In this film, his character’s name is Scott, after his real-life father, to whom the film is dedicated. Scott’s father, also named Scott, was a fireman who died trying to rescue someone. As the film begins, Scott’s sister (played by Apatow’s daughter Maude) is leaving for college. And his mother (Marisa Tomei, in another wonderfully warm and radiant performance), 17 years after his father’s death, is beginning to date someone new, also a fireman (Bill Burr). Seeing the people closest to him taking chances, moving on, and accepting responsibility are deeply unsettling. But what he is most threatened by is allowing himself to feel the feeling he has numbed with weed, denial, and tattoos that are more like self-mutilation, mortification of the flesh, and self-inflicted pain to reduce feelings of worthlessness than aesthetics or self-expression. He says he wants to be a tattoo artist and practices on his friends (and briefly on a child). He says his dream is to have a combined restaurant/tattoo parlor. What he really wants to do is erase himself.
Davidson is an exceptionally appealing performer, and it is clear he is trying to blend art and life here, using the film itself to become more vulnerable and more present. But there is a reason one of the most frequent characters he plays on SNL (other than himself) is a teenager whose only reaction is a shrug. He is still operating within a pretty narrow range, in contrast to Tomei and Burr, and Pamela Adlon, who briefly appears as a bitter ex-wife, all excellent. Making the most of an even briefer appearance is Steve Buscemi, a real-life fireman playing one on screen.
There are touching moments, and some scenes have a satisfyingly authentic impact, especially those with a group of guys showing their ride or die support for each other by ragging each other mercilessly, an Apatow speciality. It could have been half an hour longer, first by cutting the weird scenes where restaurant waiters and bus staff literally fight for tips. But we keep rooting for Scott, and especially for Pete.
Parents should know that this movie includes constant very strong, explicit, and crude language, sexual references and situations, alcohol and drugs, including the use of both to numb pain, risky and foolish behavior, including a possible suicide attempt, criminal activity, a gun, and discussions of the death of a parent and divorce.
Family discussion: Why did Scott and his sister respond to the loss of their father differently? Why was it so difficult for Scott when he mother dated another fireman? What made him decide to change?
If you like this, try: Pete Davidson’s stand-up special, “Alive from New York”