The King of Staten Island

Posted on June 11, 2020 at 3:13 pm

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
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 12, 2020

Copyright 2020 Universal Pictures
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”

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Drama Inspired by a true story movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

The Rewrite

Posted on February 5, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Mild
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 6, 2015

Sometimes all we want from a movie is Hugh Grant delivering witty, self-deprecating lines about his empty life and bad choices as he learns to find his heart and soul. You know, the cinematic equivalent to eating a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, wearing your comfiest pajamas. And every so often, we are lucky enough to get one. Writer/director Marc Lawrence understands exactly what we want from Grant in a romantic comedy. He gave us the underrated Music & Lyrics (its best moments include a wildly funny, spot-on version of a 1980’s music video and the delightful Kristen Johnson). He wrote “Two Weeks Notice,” in which Grant was so good it was possible to ignore the failures of the script. He even made Grant look good in the otherwise irretrievably awful Did You Hear About the Morgans? Here he has created just the right part for Grant as Keith Michaels, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who has had a string of flops and has now lost his family, his money, his self-respect, and any possible chance of a writing job in Hollywood, for which self-respect is not only not a necessity, but in fact is a liability.

Copyright 2014  Castle Rock
Copyright 2014 Castle Rock

The only prospect Michaels has of cash coming into rather than out of his bank account is accepting an offer to teach screenwriting at a liberal arts college in upstate New York where it rains all the time. The idea appalls him, but his long-suffering agent and his empty bank account persuade him to accept. He arrives determined “to do as little as possible while carrying on with this charade” but be miserable anyway. After he has sex with one of the students he realizes that college girls are lovely and young enough to see him as glamorous. After he insults one of the faculty members (Allison Janney, criminally underused as a humorless Jane Austen specialist who has never heard of “Clueless” or seen any of the movie adaptations, as if there was such a thing), he is reminded that he is, in fact expected to attend class and convey some information and guidance to the students. So, he selects his class on the basis of looks (the girls have to be what for reasons of civility we will just call pretty and the boys have to be what we will call not much of a threat as competition). In other words, he is using the class as a sort of analog version of Tinder.

It turns out that one of the students has written an excellent screenplay, which reminds him that he is capable of recognizing good work and a good opportunity to get back to Hollywood. He sends it to his agent asking her to offer it only if he can produce, not because he has any ideas or expertise but because it is leverage. And it turns out that one of the students is not young and pliable but certainly lovely. Her name is Holly (Marisa Tomei) and she is a single mom, too down to earth to qualify as a manic pixie dream girl, but certainly a life-force, filled with optimism that (thankfully) is not the usual mindless bubbliness but thoughtful and hard-won.

The film never takes itself too seriously, with winks at the audience including Grant’s character buying Jane Austen movies for a colleague (presumably including his own “Sense and Sensibility”) and watching his Oscar acceptance on YouTube (a real-life clip of Grant’s own Golden Globe win). There are no surprises, but sometimes, with a movie like this, that’s just what you want.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, sexual references and situations including professor/student sex, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: How does the script for this film follow the principals Keith teaches his students? Why is Holly cheerful?

If you like this, try: “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Music & Lyrics”

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Comedy Movies -- format Romance

Trailer: Sam Rockwell and Marisa Tomei in “Loitering With Intent”

Posted on November 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Available on nationwide VOD beginning 12/16 and in theaters January 2015!

When out-of-work-actors Raphael (Ivan Martin) and Dominic (Michael Godere) hustle a prominent New York producer into believing they’ve written a hot movie script, they have 10 days to deliver the goods or lose their last opportunity for a big break. Hoping to escape the bustle of New York City to write in peace, the duo head to the upstate country home of Dom’s sister Gigi (Marisa Tomei). But their writer’s retreat descends into bacchanalian romp when Gigi’s hostile boyfriend Wayne (Sam Rockwell) and his younger brother Devon (Brian Geraghty) bring old flames and simmering grudges to a head for the group. As yearnings for love and familial dynamics threaten to derail their career-making opportunity, will Raph and Dom’s friendship survive the creative process?

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