Review: 'The King Of Staten Island' an Erratic, Likeable Dramedy About Growing Up

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 12, 2020

'The King Of Staten Island'
'The King Of Staten Island'  

They (as in, much of the art made through the centuries) say you can never go home again. Yet, that's exactly what Pete Davidson has done here. Rather than slightly hint at all the internal turmoil he feels in real life, he presents the viewer with a re-creation of the events that changed him forever. And while the proceedings are overlong and sentimental to a fault, as is Judd Apatow's wont, "The Kind of Staten Island" benefits from Davidson's self-hating personality and a slew of accomplished performers milking thankless roles for all they're worth.

The bro humor inherent in most of Apatow's projects is still intact, but here it's tinged with an incalculable sadness. When your heroes are dead and gone and you're thrust into life without a direction, who do you turn to? That question is answered in a myriad of different ways during the runtime. Don't call this a return to form for Apatow; it's just more palatable.

Scott Carlin (Davidson) is trying to escape his case of arrested development while living on Staten Island with his widowed mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei). Forced to juggle between his weed-smoking pals, on-and-off fling with the erstwhile Kelsey (Bel Powley), and entering the actual workforce, Scott hesitates to make any progression whatsoever. Suffering from anxiety stemming from childhood trauma with his firefighter father, Scott just can't seem to make it out of his own head. That is, until Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), a firefighter, starts making moves toward Margie, and Scott's world is changed forever.

It's clear from the get-go that "The King of Staten Island" is pulled directly from Davidson's brain, with jokes about jerking off and killing himself whizzing around. But what's so odd about the marriage between Apatow's signature brand of mediocre white male malaise and Davidson's emotional self-immolation is that they don't really serve one another. Apatow has a knack for stretching moments for far too long or even shoehorning thin narrative threads between points in the story to make things a bit more coherent. Yet, the film benefits the most from trusting Davidson's erratic memory to carry the story.

As for the performances, Davidson is quite good at playing himself. While the self-hating shtick gets old, he really pulls off the tricky task of making us both like him and hate his bad decisions. To be fully invested emotionally in the film, the onus is on him and he pulls it off. Steve Buscemi shows up to steal the show, though, as the captain of the firehouse that Ray works for. Buscemi has the thankless task of putting every character's mind into perspective, and the actor's penchant for sardonic humor cuts harder than irreverent yelling and dick jokes ever can.

There's a lot to enjoy about "The King of Staten Island," despite its many faults, but there's an even more interesting collision between Apatow-branded dramaturgy and Davidson's own stream of consciousness style of comedy that really makes things fall in place quite nicely. Add in some sturdy work behind the camera by cinematography veteran Robert Elswit ("There Will Be Blood" and "Inherent Vice"), and you have a recipe for a worthwhile dramedy about growing the fuck up.

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