Let us stipulate the following things in this review of The King of Staten Island:
- Pete Davidson is a smart, funny dude.
- Pete Davidson also has some serious issues, none of which are all that difficult to spot, and all of which you'll already know if you've seen Davidson's recent stand-up special on Netflix.
- Judd Apatow has made some compelling work over the course of his career.
And let us stipulate one more thing: The King of Staten Island — starring the former and written by both — does nothing to change those things. Davidson is still funny and charming and deeply troubled. And Apatow is as full of passion as ever as a director. That you'll spend two-and-a-quarter hours wondering just how long it'll take for Davidson's Scott Carlin to find himself and maybe not be quite so much the screwup the next day changes none of that.
The problem is this movie wanders around as aimlessly as its protagonist.
The King of Staten Island
The Bottom Line: If you've heard Pete Davidson's life story before, you've basically already seen this movie. If you haven't, sit back and enjoy.
The good stuff
- Davidson is one of those loveable screwups
- And you can't take your eyes off him
- Steve Buscemi could talk to us about firefighters all day
The not-good stuff
- There's just nothing new here
- And it takes 2 hours to end up right where you expected
The King of Staten Island is what you get if you combine Pete Davidson's 49-minute Netflix special Alive From New York — or maybe the Hulu movie Big Time Adolescence — and combined it with the Steve Buscemi HBO documentary A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY. Both are very much worth your time.
Davidson's story is that he's from Staten Island, his father was a firefighter who died with so many others on Sept. 11, 2001. Pete was 8 years old. If you've watched the Netflix stand-up or read or watched any interviews with Davidson, you likely already know that and know full well that he talks about it openly and frankly.
Same goes for Scott in The King of Staten Island. His father died fighting a hotel fire when he was 7, and Scott's never forgiven him for it. He just doesn't know how, and doesn't know where to begin. And that obvious emotional baggage weighs on everything. On his relationship with his mother, Margie (Marissa Tomei) and sister, Claire (Maude Apatow). On his relationship with his not-quite girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley). On his deadbeat friends.
Everything Scott does he does to keep from feeling anything.
That's it. That's the movie.
Scott can't confront the death of his father 17 years ago. He can't confront the feeling of loss as his sister leaves for college. He can't confront the feelings his mother has for Ray (Bill Burr) — also a firefighter, and who Scott resents because Ray inevitably will die and leave them all and thing will hurt all over again. At least, that's how he sees it.
(There's a whole funny thing about how Scott and Ray first meet. And it's integral to the story and part of what makes the movie more than 2 hours long. But we're going to keep it from making this review any longer than it needs to be.)
Scott's father is what keeps that glimmer of light lit in Scott's conscience, which only makes the drug-store robbery scenes that much more superfluous in a movie that runs more than 2 hours.
Scott's father (and his mother kicking both him and Ray out of the house) is what ultimately leads Scott to the firehouse, and into he arms of men who knew his father. He knows deep down that he'll be safe there, and that maybe — just maybe — these guys can lead him off the path he's been on all these years. And the firehouse "Papa" (Buscemi) knows this, too — because he also knew Scott's father.
Turns out Scott's dad was a lot like Scott, drugs and all. Go figure. And it took seeking refuge in his father's second home for him to finally learn about his father and that it wasn't that he left his family — he was just saving someone else's. Because that's what he did.
It took Scott more than 24 years and 2 hours of screen time to figure that out, made up mostly of trailer-friendly sequences. But the rest of us didn't have to watch The King of Staten Island to reach that conclusion. We just had to be somewhere in Pete Davidson's orbit the past few years to learn his life story. And that story's tragic. It makes you feel for Pete and Scott. It makes you root for Pete and Scott.
It just didn't make for a particularly compelling movie in this case.
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