There’s an argument to be made that Pete Davidson is already having the year of his career. So far this year he has put out his first Netflix stand-up special, co-starred in critically acclaimed Hulu film Big Time Adolescence, and is now the star of Judd Apatow’s newest project The King of Staten Island. This year it seems that Davidson is out to prove that he’s more than just a funny addition to SNL, and so far he has done that and more.
Co-written by Davidson and somewhat based on his real-life, The King of Staten Island follows Scott (Pete Davidson), a 24-year-old living in Staten Island who spends most of his days either smoking weed in his friend’s basement, smoking weed outside in an abandoned lot, or smoking weed while… well, you get the point. He lives with his mom (Marisa Tomei) with no job and no real ambition to get out of the house and make something of his life. His only passion is tattooing, which he is exceptionally bad at. Even with his lack of skill, his friends still allow him to tattoo them. And it seems all fun and games until you’re left with a deformed face on your arm that’s supposed to be the face of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama.
After Scott’s sister expresses some concern for his well-being before leaving for college, Scott is left in Staten Island with his mom to contemplate how he’s been living his life and how he’s been coping with the loss of his father: a fireman who died in a hotel fire when Scott was young. When Scott’s mother finally begins to date again, he is immediately shocked and disgusted to find out that the man she is seeing is another fireman (Bill Burr). From then on out, a constant battle for approval and understanding is waged between the three of them.
Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Bridesmaids) has an incredible knack for capturing moments that feel like real life. Scenes rarely feel forced in his films and making everything feel authentic. Whether it’s joking around with friends, talking to kids, or arguing with a parent, every bit of Apatow’s filmmaking feels real and in the moment. It only adds to the purity and authenticity when the lead actor shares similarities with his own character. Just like Scott, Pete Davidson actually tattoos his friends in real life. He actually lives with his mom in Staten Island. And just like his character, Davidson’s father was a fireman who lost his life on the job, on 9/11 to be exact. In the real world, Davidson has faced problems with depression and anxiety and has been open about his mental health publicly. Scott is an extension of Davidson’s real self, and his performance in The King of Staten Island shows us the genuine mental complexities of dealing with the loss of a loved one even several years later.
That being said, Davidson’s range of emotions is remarkable in this film. We know he’s a funny guy, but in this film he makes us laugh like never before. Fans familiar with his straight-to-the-point delivery will be pleased to see it in full effect here. In one scene, he calls out a jacked biker dude who has some racist tattoos. He’s so obviously sarcastic and serious in his comments, and it’s a riot to see just how far he’ll go in the face of someone so intimidating. And even when Scott’s cracking jokes to his friends or to his sister, we can still see and feel the grief that his loss has caused him to feel. “Big Time Adolescence” really felt like a breakout role for Davidson, but The King of Staten Island really solidifies him as a star with incredible future potential. Credit also has to be given to the supporting cast, particularly Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr as both of them give real solid performances here. Davidson has clear chemistry with both of them and the back and forth conversations between them really drive the film’s best moments.
Apatow has made some amazing films in his career, but The King of Staten Island is possibly the most perfectly toned film he’s ever made. The film knows when to crack a witty joke and knows when to take a step back to let the characters breathe. From beginning to end, we always know how these characters are feeling and how they are growing as people. Though it carries a somewhat long run time of two hours and fifteen minutes, the film is consistently funny, emotional, and engaging. Arguments can be made over which of Apatow’s films are the best, but The King of Staten Island must at least be mentioned in those conversations.