Monday, August 31, 2020

Movie Review: The King of Staten Island

The King of Staten Island *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Judd Apatow.
Written by: Judd Apatow & Pete Davidson & Dave Sirus.
Starring: Pete Davidson (Scott Carlin), Marisa Tomei (Margie Carlin), Bill Burr (Ray Bishop), Ricky Velez (Oscar), Bel Powley (Kelsey), Maude Apatow (Claire Carlin), Steve Buscemi (Papa), Pamela Adlon (Gina), Jimmy Tatro (Firefighter Savage), Kevin Corrigan (Joe), Domenick Lombardozzi (Firefighter Lockwood), Mike Vecchione (Firefighter Thompson), Moises Arias (Igor), Carly Aquilino (Tara), Lou Wilson (Richie), Derek Gaines (Zoots), Pauline Chalamet (Joanne).

Judd Apatow has essentially made a directing career out of movies telling famous comedians it’s time to grow the hell up. Whether it’s Steve Carrell in The 40 Year Old Virgin or Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, Adam Sandler in Funny People or Amy Schumer in Trainwreck – or hell, even Paul Rudd as a Apatow stand-in in This is 40 – Apatow’s filmography is full of funny people, who are basically overgrown children, who just need to mature – usually, it’s through a relationship with someone, but not always (Funny People being the obvious exception here). His latest, The King of Staten Island, attempts to do the same thing for SNL’s Pete Davidson, essentially taking Davidson’s persona, and details from his life, and making a movie about how Davidson’s Scott Carlin needs to grow up. I do think the film softens some of the real Davidson’s issues – mental illness is brought up, but not really explored, and even in a filmography such as Apatow’s – where there has never been a subplot that hasn’t been explored, this time it seems excessive. Still, the film is winning and funny, and essentially warm hearted – basically, what you expect from Apatow.

In the film, David stars as Scott Carlin – a 24-year-old still living at home on Staten Island with his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei) and younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) – although Claire is about to go away to college, and is understandably worried about her big brother. Their firefighter father died in a fire when they were little (not on 9/11 as Davidson’s real father did – perhaps Apatow and company figured bringing that into it would make it far too dark) – and Scott has never really gotten over it. He basically does the same thing he did in high school – sit around with his friends getting stoned, giving himself – and them – bad tattoos, and arguing with Kelsey (Bel Powley) his childhood friend turned friends with benefits/girlfriend that he doesn’t know why she wants to put a label on their relationship. He doesn’t have a job – he’ll get one as a busboy – he dropped out of art school (he is talented) – and doesn’t really know what he’s going to do. He goes into a little bit of a tailspin when his mother starts dating Ray (Bill Burr) – another fireman, which brings out the worst in him, and in turn, in Ray as well.

The film has approximately a million subplots – so we get scenes with his friends, scenes with Ray’s ex-wife – Pamela Adlon, who Scott bonds with when he starts walking their kids to school, scenes with Kelsey, scenes at the restaurant where he works, scenes of him trying to become a tattoo artist, etc. before the film settles down in its second half and focuses on Scott, living with the firemen at the firehouse, who kind of take him under their wing, tell him stories about his dad, and make him grow up a little. You could argue there is a better, tighter 90-minute version of this film – rather than 135-minute version we got – one that focusing primarily on the firemen, his mother and Kelsey (Bel Powley is a delight) – but over the last 15 years, I’ve come to think that perhaps Apatow is like Tarantino in that he needs the subplots, side roads and diversions to get to where he ultimately wants to be.

I still don’t know if Davidson is a good actor or not. He’s incredibly hit and miss on SNL and is in his standup, but playing a version of himself here, he is quite good. It doesnI’t hurt him that he is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast – I really liked the previously mentioned Tomei and especially Powley, along with Steve Buscemi as the elder statesman of the fire department, Pamela Aldon, who makes the most out of little screen time, and The Nightly Show’s Ricky Velez as one of Scott’s loser friends. In a more serious role, Burr is also quite good – although I wouldn’t be shocked to find the role was written especially for him and his comedic skills.

I do wish that the film had delved a little deeper into mental illness though – even if this is a comedy. Davidson has been open with his struggles – and Scott mentions them early in the film as well, but they are kind of forgotten about as the film moves along. Unlike other Apatow protagonists, I don’t think it’s quite so easy as saying Scott needs to grow up, and commit to the perfect girl right in front of him. Like changing his father’s death from being on 9/11 to just being in a random fire, you wonder if perhaps Apatow just didn’t want to deal with what it would bring up in a comedy – but doing so may have taken The King of Staten Island from what it is – a good little comedy, into something greater.

Still, for what it is, The King of Staten Island definitely works. It is funny and heartwarming, and gives Davidson a chance to show what he can do – and surrounds him with a first rate ensemble cast. If I wanted a little more, it’s a testament to what was already there, that I felt the film could have gone there if it chose to. 

No comments:

Post a Comment