By John Hanlon
There is something inherently messy about the new comedy The King of Staten Island and that’s one of the reasons why many parts of it ring true. Featuring Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson, the feature tells the story of a twenty-something whose life hasn’t yet come together. The character himself recognizes this, admitting it freely when he’s pushed to take on more responsibility.
Davidson stars as Scott Carlin, a slacker with no direction in life. He spends time with his friends smoking pot. He spends time with his friends playing basketball. He spends time with his friends at the beach. There are plenty of scenes showing him simply hanging out with his friends as the comedy starts out at a sluggish pace.
When one of these these frequent hangout sessions ends with Scott tattooing a nine-year-old boy, the boy’s father Ray (Bill Burr) shows up at Scott’s house, demanding answers from Scott’s ever-patient mother Margie (Marisa Tomei). It’s here where the story starts to pick up the pace, becoming more than just a hang-out movie. Ray starts dating Margie and encouraging her to gently push Scott into adulthood.
Written by Judd Apatow, Dave Sirus and Pete Davidson, many elements of the story come from Davidson’s own life. From Scott’s late firefighter father to his closeness with his mother, the character’s back story closely resembles Davidson’s.
Although the character shares similarities with Davidson, his journey is different. While Davidson personally found comedy, Scott longs to start a tattoo restaurant that would provide clients with an array of dining options and an opportunity to get a tattoo. Davidson does a great job here, presenting his character as silly and idealistic but also inherently relatable. He imbues the character with an awkward meekness that allows the audience room to empathize with him despite the poor decisions he makes.
With a running time of two hours and sixteen minutes though, there’s a meandering quality to the picture that coincides too closely with the carefree title character. It’s easy to see what the film is trying to do as it establishes the main character but it stumbles along the way, adding in superfluous scenes that do nothing to move the story forward.
Like the lead character though, the story eventually finds a way forward and The King of Staten Island offers some noteworthy turns. These turns include some messy relationship changes, which oftentimes ring true. One such turn involves Scott and Ray getting into a fierce argument with each other, which ultimately leads to a budding relationship between them.
At first glance, the characters disapprove of one another but they grow to respect each other in a surprisingly moving way.
Although much of the feature’s attention has been focused on Davidson, Burr does a great job here as a supporting player. In many ways, he presents Ray like an older version of Scott — a man struggling with his past and oftentimes unsure of himself. Steve Buscemi, who only appears in a few scenes here, also does a great job as Scott’s supervisor, a man who sees Scott’s potential.
One of the film’s most memorable sequences though might be Scott’s unflinching look as his new firefighter friends run into a burning building. It’s in quiet moments of introspection like this that the film speaks to the trauma of grief and how it affects those who experience it up close. Like several of director Judd Apatow’s other comedies, there are jokes sprinkled throughout the proceedings and there are a few big laughs here and there.
However, the jokes never get in the way of telling Scott’s story and once it gets moving, The King of Staten Island proves to be something worthwhile.