We all have our favourite directors - Tarantino, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, Lee, the list goes on and on. For whatever reason that we connect to their filmmaking approach, we also find a connection with them on a more personal level. In a similar way to actors, directors' personal stories and personalities can make us love them more. For some reason, my favourite director is Judd Apatow; his comedies have a unique way of really hitting that personal level while still being hilarious and raunchy. 'The King of Staten Island' is no exception, and he teams up with one my favourite modern comedians, Pete Davidson, easily making this my most anticipated film of 2020.
Scott (Pete Davidson, 'Set it Up', 'What Men Want') is in his late 20s and still lives at home with his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei, 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', 'Crazy, Stupid, Love') and spends most his days smoking weed and tattooing his friends. When his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow, TV's 'Euphoria' and 'Hollywood'), leaves for college, his mum begins to date firefighter Ray (Bill Burr, 'The Heat', 'Daddy's Home'), causing Scott not only to grow up but finally comfort the death of his father, who was also a firefighter, when he was seven.
For those unfamiliar with Pete Davidson's personal life, his father, Scott Davidson, a New York City firefighter, died while on duty during the 9/11 attacks. Pete has talked about how this changed his life, and began lashing out at school for many years after his death. He also has Crohn's disease and has also battled with a marijuana addiction over the years. Along with Apatow and Dave Sirus, Davidson wrote 'The King of Staten Island' as a semi-autobiographical film using his personal battles in the story, similar to 'Honey Boy'.
This film has an extremely emotional core, more than any other Apatow production. This does feel like a spiritual sequel to 'Trainwreck', touching on similar issues like being afraid of commitment, father issues and a complicated sibling relationship, and both films have a strong focus on a manchild having to face growing up. While both are loosely based on the lead's lives, 'The King of Staten Island' is more successful due to that emotional core.
I've seen a bit of criticism at the film's length, and while at nearly two and a half hours it is lengthy, for me it really made the emotional payoff hit so much deeper. As a fan of Davidson, it's easier for me to connect than if you go in blind, and while some of the humour could be cut back in scenes, everything feels authentic. You really do feel like this character has grown, and while I'm not a stoner with a dead dad, there is something about the story of an early-twenty something wondering who they are and what to do with their life that really hit home.
Pete Davidson shines. While he's just playing himself, to pull off some of those more dramatic and emotional scenes is something noteworthy.
Even though I said I don't have a problem with the longer run time, these are some ways I think the film could be tightened. A lot of the stuff with his friends could be cut or heavily trimmed; while there are things set up in these scenes, the focus really should have been on his relationship with his family, and there are large portions where they are missing. If you've seen the trailer as many times as I have, the plot that's presented there takes a while to show up. The film has a really long act 1, taking a while to get going. While I still enjoyed the comedy and world-building, tightening small things would have made for an even more successful package. If you're having some trouble getting into the film, I highly recommend sticking it out until they visit his sister in college or they get to the firehouse, as this is where the film really begins to hit home.
Marisa Tomei, as always, is phenomenal here. She's a mother who is strong but broken with a son who doesn't know what he's doing while her daughter, her rock, is leaving to college, all while still coping with the loss of her husband - and when she finally finds someone, her son won't let her be happy. If the film was to get any kind of Oscar love, I'm going to start the campaign now for Best Supporting Actress. She gives one of the best performances of her career.
Apatow's own daughter, Maude, plays Davidson's sister. She holds her own in the dramatic scenes, and her angry love for her brother feels real. I hope we get to see her in more in the coming years. I do wish her arc was better closed off at the end, however. Bill Burr gets to show a bit more of his dramatic side, and like the rest of the cast is doing a fantastic job.
Lastly, on the performance side of things, Pete Davidson shines. While he's just playing himself, to pull off some of those more dramatic and emotional scenes is something noteworthy. Of course, I have a pre-existing interest and knowledge of Davidson, but if this is your first time watching him, I think you'll really be pleasantly surprised by him.
Pete Davidson has had a rough career and is viewed in a somewhat bad light, mainly due to terrible "cancel culture" trends. If you go in wanting hate him, you will, but that defeats the heart of the film. 'The King of Staten Island' shines as both as semi-autobiographical film and another fantastic entry in Judd Apatow's ever-growing filmography.