‘The King of Staten Island’ Review — Judd Apatow’s Latest is Heartfelt and Uneven

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The King of Staten Island Review

Over the course of the past couple decades, Judd Apatow has become a cornerstone of American comedy. As a writer, producer, and director, Apatow has lifted younger comedic voices, and that trend continues with Apatow’s collaboration alongside Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson with The King of Staten Island. For better or worse, The King of Staten Island is very much a Judd Apatow film – alternating breezily between raunchy humor and overt sentimentality with a running time that borders on excessive. The King of Staten Island proves to be a different kind of coming-of-age story, one that taps into its star’s personal grief while also taking on a particular kind of generational malaise.

Scott (Davidson) is a listless millennial who has two passions – weed and tattoos. He’s unemployed and spends most of his time blazing with his bros, Oscar (Ricky Velez), Richie (Lou Wilson), and Igor (Moses Arias). Many nights, Scott engages in late flings with his lifelong friend Kelsey (Bel Powley), though Scott’s fairly emphatic that he’s not interested in a serious relationship. Here is a young man stuck in a rut, avoiding any and all responsibility as he struggles to find his place in the world.

Scott’s fragile existence in his little corner of Staten Island is about to get upturned. His younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is getting ready to leave for college, and his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) worries about the direction of her son’s life, one that has veered off course since the death of his firefighter father as a child. Scott is betting his future on becoming a tattoo artist and his sights set on an apprenticeship. To hone his skills, Scott practices on his friends who have since grown tired of their amateur ink. When Scott offers to tattoo a local kid, it sets off a minor controversy when the child’s father Ray (Bill Burr) arrives at the front door irate. After tensions cool, Margie and Ray strike up a relationship to which Scott negatively reacts when he learns that Ray is a firefighter. Slowly Scott’s Staten Island sanctuary begins to crumble.

Much like its lead character, The King of Staten Island struggles to find its focus. A big part of that is Judd Apatow’s kind of freewheeling directorial style that lets the comedic cast just riff away. The film goes on tangents that can be humorous but often feel unnecessary. The film’s main story as scripted by Davidson, Apatow, and David Sirus is rather predictable with few genuine surprises. And yet despite this the film mostly works because Apatow’s sentimental sensibilities provide the film with a resonant emotional core. Scott’s struggles are one of emotional development stymied by clinging to his longstanding grief instead of processing it. This emotional baggage weighs on every relationship in Scott’s life, from his sister to his mother and all the way to Ray’s relationship with Margie.

The greatest strength to The King of Staten Island is the film’s cast, many of whom deliver strong performances. Pete Davidson is poised for a big break out with his wide grin and easygoing spirit that embodies frustrated and drifting millennials. Bel Powley is equally fantastic as Kelsey, utilizing a thick Staten Island accent in her best performance since Diary of a Teenage Girl. And yet as good as Davidson and Powley are they aren’t what gives the film its emotional resonance. That comes from the one-two punch of Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr. As Scott is dealing with his own issues in struggling to find his place, Burr’s Ray and Tomei’s Margie are each trying to find their way through the obstacles that life has placed in their way. All of the performances are boosted by the small supporting roles including veteran screen presences Steve Buscemi, Kevin Corrigan, and Pamela Adlon.

The King of Staten Island isn’t the funniest film that Judd Apatow has directed but it is his most emotionally resonant. Pete Davidson places himself at the center of a deeply personal story of grief that holds a mirror up to himself while exploring generational issues which makes the story feel more universal. The film is full of the flaws that hamper other works by Judd Apatow but the flaws aren’t as noticeable here because the film is incredibly earnest and heartfelt.

The King of Staten Island
  • Overall Score
3

Summary

An uneven yet heartfelt film, director Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island is rambling and overlong but works thanks to the emotionally resonant performances from its cast, including star and co-writer Pete Davidson.

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