The King Of Staten Island (2020)

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I’ve been to New York twice in my life. On both of those occasions, I boarded the Staten Island ferry, took nice pictures of the Statue of Liberty, walked to the other side of the port, and got straight back on the boat. That is the entirety of my relationship with New York’s least fashionable borough! The very least I could do, then, in my continued lockdown, is take a third, more immersive trip to that corner of the world. No personal protective equipment needed!

The King Of Staten Island tells the story of Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson), a 24 year old high school dropout whose stagnant, low achieving life is brought to a crossroads when his mother (Marisa Tomei) begins her first relationship since the death his firefighting father 17 years ago. In typical dramedy fashion, Scott clashes with new man in the house Ray (Bill Burr), with themes of depression, regrets, trauma, and much more coming to the surface.

On the whole, The King Of Staten Island is a really enjoyable and well rounded comedy drama that hits all of the marks you would expect it to. The humour stays relatively consistent throughout, not super incisive but fun in a sort of sitcom kind of way. When you learn that Judd Apatow is directing, you get an instant idea of what the comedy is going to be like, but this is definitely more Trainwreck then Knocked Up.

Clocking in at just under two and a half hours, it definitely runs a little longer than most films of this genre, but it doesn’t ever feel like it was outstaying its welcome. In terms of narrative, this isn’t a film with any twists and turns, you can pretty much predict the plot and its many obstacles along the way. There is, however, a sort of comfort in settling down to watch a movie that feels familiar but is in its own way, also kind of ‘new’.

Being semi autobiographical in nature, there is no doubt that having knowledge of Pete Davidson’s own tragic family story certainly does have an impact on the viewing experience. Davidson’s own father was a fireman who sadly died as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, and knowing this proves almost impossible to separate fiction and reality. It lends a touching poignancy to the film that really comes through in the more dramatic, emotional scenes.

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I can’t imagine what kind of emotional experience this project must have been for Pete Davidson. Contributing both infront of the camera as lead protagonist and behind it as co-writer, it’s clear that Davidson has poured a lot of himself into this film, and thankfully he gives a performance good enough to showcase that. There is something about this weird, gangly, tattooed guy that you can’t take your eyes off. He has an awkward charisma that is super watchable, and of course, his comedy chops are unquestioned. Like the best comedians do, Davidson has found light in his darkness, and together with Judd Apatow has created something incredibly personal, even if it is only ‘semi’ so.

The film is filled with supporting performers that all do great work to add to the feel and tone of the piece. Bill Burr as Ray is exactly the kind of ‘tough love’, initially abrasive new father figure that we are used to seeing in these types of stories, and Marisa Tomei as Scott’s mother Margie is scene partner for Davidson. Cameos from the likes of Steve Buscemi give the film that extra touch of star quality, and altogether the cast is an incredibly enjoyable one.

Overall, I’d say that The King Of Staten Island is something of a hidden gem. I’m not sure it’s quite ‘stand out’ enough to attract much awards attention, but I wouldn’t be mad at all if Pete Davidson was given a few mentions here and there at the business end of the season. The film is a comedy drama that manages to talk about a lot of heavy issues in a way that feels light but still appropriately reverent. Obviously a film that carries a lot of personal weight for its star, and by all accounts he handles that weight like a total pro. I hadn’t paid too much attention to Pete Davidson up to this point, but I’ll definitely be looking out for his projects from now on.

 

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