Directed by: #JuddApatow
Written by: Judd Apatow, PeteDavidson, Dave Sirus
Film Review by: #PhilipGiordano
The King of Staten Island Movie Review
Pete Davidson’s semi-autobiographical tale is a funny and authentic comedy that tugs at your heart.
Coming of Age films are a journey of maturation; of a child becoming an adult. They are often litmus tests for filmmakers because they reveal what adulthood means to them. In this case, in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, manhood is about intimacy and self-confidence. In his eyes, that is what makes you a man. It’s significant because the protagonist’s father died when he was seven and that hole hasn’t mended as the film begins.
As a native Staten Islander, this film hits close to home. And I think Apatow nailed the authenticity. From the specifics to the vagaries. From above ground pools to pill addictions to our foul attitudes, hair-trigger tempers and living with our parents well into our twenties. It’s a negative depiction of the folks that are from there, but to be fair, for many it is very accurate. Cinema is making people that aren’t perfect, human. Revealing their humanity. And as Dave Chappelle said in his latest special 8:46 “Staten Island…it’s an awful place…everyone who’s been there knows it…yuck to Staten Island.” It’s not particularly known for its warmth or open-mindedness. It’s thirty minutes away from one of the most cultural cities in the world and the majority of the people living there seldom visit Manhattan. This truth also gives a much deeper meaning to the ending of the film. But no spoilers here.
The King of Staten Island follows Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) an immature tattoo artist who is afraid of intimacy and commitment, which most likely stems from the death of his father, a fireman, who died while on duty. The film follows Scott as he craps on everything from his sisters’ graduation to anything requiring effort: including an unpaid apprenticeship with a major tattoo artist.
My biggest criticism of Scott is that he doesn’t try, which certainly comes from attachment issues, but is a major flaw that stays present throughout the entire runtime of the film. When I was in high school there was a kid named Muldoon who instead of taking notes would obsessively draw faces in his notebook. One face per page, trying to perfect the proportions. He started out with a pencil and graduated to a pen. Years later, Muldoon became a full-blown tattoo artist. If only Scott ever tried drawing on screen I could root so much more for him! The biggest difference between Scott in The King of Staten Island and B-Rabbit in 8 Mile (a similar film in theme and genre) is that Rabbit puts his heart and soul into his writing and Scott is too scared to jump in head first and do the work. Trying to be a tattoo artist isn’t ruining your childhood friends bodies with your undeveloped skills, it’s drawing every second of your free time. Which is something completely off-screen, my biggest criticism of the film.
The main conflict in the story comes when Scott’s mum Margi (Marisa Tomei) starts dating a firefighter named Ray Bishop (Bill Burr). This throws Scott out of control and he tries everything he can to break them up. From starting fights with Ray, embarrassing him in front of his friends, to getting Ray’s ex-wife day-drunk (more Staten Island authenticity points!) and finding out his vices. Ultimately it works, but not how Scott anticipated. His mom throws him and Ray out. This banishment forces Scott to finally fend for himself and propels him towards the world of adulthood. A journey that is not easy for him.
I would be remiss to not talk about how emotional this film gets at times. Apatow tugs at our heart strings once Scott stops deflecting and starts embracing change. And when he finds refuge at Ray’s firehouse, he starts to build bonds with men who not only shared his fathers profession, but truly knew him. It’s here where the film finds its heart and its most endearing moments. When we see the men teaching Scott the values his father would have taught him if he were alive. As a son this hit me hard and as a new father myself, it made my eyes well up. Manhood is hard to attain and you need assistance. As much as guys talk tough, they deeply need that connection and someone to push them to be better.
This is Apatow’s most indie effort in regards to subject matter, tone, and shooting style and he has done a fine job. It’s his best film since Funny People. The fantastic Robert Elswit, who was Paul Thomas Anderson’s longtime Cinematographer, crafts the light quite nicely, using lots of practicals (what Staten Island home isn’t overflowing with vintage lamps) and natural light. He keeps the camera very still where these types of films are traditionally handheld. Marisa Tomei is fantastic as always. She’s truly an angel; able to tight-rope so many complex emotions. Bill Burr, one of the top comedians in the world, who sells out stadiums and has a wildly popular podcast, reveals his acting chops here after his work on The Mandalorian. Burr is remarkably restrained in his performance allowing for a lot of nice subtle moments. Davidson, the lead, is extremely likeable, charismatic, and sympathetic. This film will make his talent undeniable. He is wickedly funny and profoundly dramatic. He gives a magnificently sincere and vulnerable performance.
Overall The King of Staten Island is absolutely worth watching.