“The King of Staten Island” Movie Review


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     The slightly overlong, but thoroughly entertaining “The King of Staten Island” fits nicely within the filmography of its director, Judd Apatow, known for his envelope pushing comedies that typically feature the kind of relationship driven coming of age story this film clearly excels in telling.  Featuring a breakout leading performance by SNL’s Pete Davidson, as well as several notable supporting performances by the likes of Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, and the director’s daughter, Maude Apatow, the film is essentially a loose retelling of Davidson’s own life.  One that was struck with tragedy early on, creating a childhood that proved difficult to maneuver through and ultimately recover from.

     Working from a script co written by himself, Davidson, and Dave Sirus, Apatow is clearly in a comfort zone here, giving the impression this is the kind of film he could make in his sleep.  And with a number of comedy classics under his reign, including “The 40 Year Old Virgin”,  “Knocked Up”, and “Trainwreck” to name a few, his latest effort is exactly what should be expected.  And the subject matter is clearing tailor made for the lens of which he views the world as his characters tend to be outcasts who don’t necessarily crave mainstream acceptance, but would certainly welcome the opportunity to be a part of something they are often denied.

     And that’s Scott (Pete Davidson) in a nutshell.  Early scenes give the obvious impression of your quintessential slacker.  Kind of like if Beavis and Butthead were shown in live action.  He and his misfit buddies spend hours in the basements of their parent’s homes smoking weed, drinking, watching movies, playing video games, and wondering aloud if they will ever actually succeed at anything.  The timing sees Scott’s younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), graduating from high school and preparing to leave for college.  This means he must attend a graduation party at the behest of his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and mingle with a gathering of some Staten Island’s elite for an evening, while attempting to function in a social setting he clearly is not built for.

     But it is this chain of events that reveals to the audience one of the likely reasons Scott is now 24 years old and remains at a standstill in his young life.  At the age of 7, his father, an NYFD firefighter, was killed in the line of duty, leaving him without that all important father figure in his life.  As we know, these kinds of tragedies affect people in different ways.  The incident may have happened seventeen years earlier, but Scott remains within the safety net provided by his mother, living at home, remaining unemployed, and wondering what’s next, if anything.

     The dynamic instantly changes; however, when he and his friends are approached at the beach by a wandering nine year old looking to mingle with the cool kids. Scott has a dream of becoming a working tattoo artist and regularly looks to his friends to provide the canvas.  Something they have all done willingly in the past, but the mixed results mean he now must look elsewhere.  So when Harold (Luke David Blumm) walks up and asks Scott for a tattoo of The Punisher, how can he refuse?  Of course the unbearable pain of being rapidly pierced by a needle means the youngster can only endure a short line drawn on his shoulder, leading to a set of circumstances that thrusts the story into its primary trajectory.  One where Scott may finally see a place for him in this crazy world we currently live in.

     Enter Ray (Bill Burr), the angry father of Harold who comes knocking on Margie’s door looking for Scott and payment for the removal of the tattooed line now pulsing on his son’s upper arm.  But when the dust settles, Ray and Margie take a liking to each other, leading to romance and an immediate disturbance in the world that Scott has known for most of his life.  Suddenly, a man is now working his way into the house.  Influencing his mom to enact new rules and responsibilities designed to motivate him to ultimately go out on his own.  Something Scott instantly rejects.  And to make matters worse, Ray is also a veteran NYFD fireman.

     As we move into the second and third acts of the film, Apatow weaves together a number of plot threads involving the difficult time he has in accepting Ray, the on again off again relationship he has with his long time girlfriend, Kelsey (Bel Powley), the continual shenanigans with his equally as braindead friends, his quest to find a job that pays enough to live on his own, and the constant reminders of his father of whom he holds a deep grudge against for not coming home on that fateful night.  This is a kid who harbors a ton of anger and misguided hatred that has left him in a constant state of flux for all of his early adult years with no means of turning things around.  Of course, many of these new found relationships have a way of working themselves out, even if the initial stages are quite rocky.

     In a film that relies solely on the performances of the actors and the power of the words they say, Apatow may be guilty of including a few scenes that wouldn’t be missed otherwise.  But the core story is strong enough to carry the film emotionally, as well as bringing enough charm, wit, and colorful banter to ensure audiences will eventually root for Scott to make his way out of a considerable rut and discover he has the ability to do anything he’s willing to put the proper effort into.  It’s the kind of underdog story we all love to see. GRADE: B+