Written by: Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, Dave Sirus
Starring: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, Steve Buscemi
Life does not demand a specific timeline for when to achieve things, as it typically forms through social norms. Just because most people go to college at 18 does not necessarily mean everyone should attend at that specific juncture in life. The King of Staten Island shows a guy with nothing really going for him in life and it allows for him to figure it out even with all of the messiness involved with it.
An aspiring tattoo artist, Scott (Pete Davidson) does not appear to have much direction in life as he still lives at home and cannot figure out the next steps in being a functioning adult. Still reeling from the loss of his father at 7-years-old, he arrives at an impactful time in life where both his mother and sister begin to stretch in ways he’s been incapable of for most of his life.
At 24 years old, Scott spends most of his time smoking weed with his friends and having a casual sexual relationship with his longtime friend, Kelsey (Bel Powley). He’s had difficulties in making valuable connections to others and other commitments because of the issues he battles internally. Having both ADD and the struggle in trying to deal with the death of his father, he seemingly cannot figure things out. It leaves him being a constant source of worry to both his mother and sister, which makes things complicated when his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow) gets to the age in life where she’s heading off to college. She expresses plenty of worry for the well-being of her brother and rightfully so seeing as he has no concrete plan.
The idea of having this roadmap became an expectation set by society where students should know at 18 what they want to do for the rest of their lives. At Scott’s age, they should either have been working professionally for two years or just wrapped up graduate school but the protagonist of this film does not fit the mold in the slightest. It becomes frustrating for those around him, but the reality check arrives for him.
The King of Staten Island signifies this battle, but also the struggle of Pete Davidson, the actor, as he looks back on his path through this somewhat autobiographical feature. Several aspects of the character of Scott came to screen from the real experiences of the young man and the struggle of losing his father, who worked as a firefighter. The film delves into this struggle he has, which gets accelerated when his mother (Marisa Tomei) begins dating another fireman, Ray (Bill Burr). This truly sets him off in a manner that ultimately gets him into hot water, as it truly indicates how he has not fully gotten over the death of his own father.
For the strong comedic aspects this film wields, it certainly harbors plenty of emotionally potent moments due to the personal nature of the story. While Scott and Ray have their combative moments, they also share plenty of tender ones where Scott has the moments of realization of his father not being the perfect person everyone else has made him out to be. Having the perspective of the dead saintly parent makes sense because speaking ill of the dead is not a great practice, but it helps with the young man’s development in trying to figure things out on his own.
The level of incompetence Scott expresses in this film gets concerning at points. It hits the peak when he hangs out at the beach with his friends and he laments not having anyone to practice his tattoo skills on. A child shows up and Scott asks if he would want a free tattoo, which the kid agrees to because of the perception of them being cool. Despite the protestations by some of the friends, Scott attempts to continue with the tattoo, which the kid backs out of due to the pain. This scene demonstrates that he has no perception of how bad of an action that was, but by also seeing his other designs, Scott might not have the necessary talent to be a professional in this craft. It becomes a running theme where others show the shoddy tattoo jobs he has done on them.
With all of the struggles Scott battles, a level of sweetness runs through him as a character, which comes together through the performance of Pete Davidson. Certainly a very personal performance for him, he really gets at the heart of this struggle because it partly serves as his own. With this being his first primary or leading role in a feature, he certainly impresses in handling the demeanor of Scott in both the sad and comedic ways. He shows a level of range many may not be aware of with most of his exposure coming from his work on Saturday Night Live. Not the typical film outing for a cast member of this program, but the emotional aspects certainly hit the right nerve.
While not really diving deep into the issues of Scott, The King of Staten Island tells a strong story about overcoming loss and facing the reality of the past to move forward. It gets achieved by it being brought to life by Pete Davidson and the best pacing a Judd Apatow film has ever achieved. The film certainly surpassed the length a comedy should have but the emotional moments more than made up for it.