Review: The King of Staten Island

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Described as a semi-autobiographical piece, The King of Staten Island is a heartfelt love letter to the family and life of Pete Davidson, who delivers an impressive performance.

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Besides the popular Seth Rogen comedies of the noughties, writer, director and producer Judd Apatow is well-known for his work on Girls and Trainwreck. His new release, The King of Staten Island, loosely follows this pattern of finding comedy in the midst of existential crisis. The involvement of SNL comedian Pete Davidson, starring and writing the script alongside Apatow and Dave Sirus, in what is essentially a semi-autobiographical story about Davidson’s life brings a breath of fresh air to what could have been another formulaic exploration of arrested development.

Davidson plays Scott, a lazy but troubled 24-year-old still living in his family home with no passions bar tattoo art – the wacky, downright awful designs he inflicts upon his similarly deadbeat friends provide sufficient laughs throughout. Scott’s struggle to overcome the death of his father, while his relatives crave for him to take steps towards the future, closely mirrors Davidson’s own upbringing. His real father Scott Davidson was a firefighter who tragically died on 9/11. In the film, Pete’s fictitious father Stan shows similarities, the story bringing raw insight into the trauma of bereavement. The plot diverges from real life as Scott’s mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) falls for firefighter Ray (Bill Burr), turning Scott’s stagnated lifestyle on its head. A push towards independence arrives fairly late in the film but feels perfectly timed due to its intense focus on the aftermath of tragedy, with authentic dialogue and lack of attempt to tie everything together neatly working in the film’s favour.

As The King of Staten Island will be seen as a test of whether Davidson can break free from the Saturday Night Live bubble, it was a clever move to take part in such a heartfelt and personal project, one which allows for more appreciation for Davidson’s subtle, engaging performance. Many of Scott’s mistakes and reckless decisions make the character borderline unlikable, yet the progressive insight into why he behaves the way he does creates an engrossing yo-yoing between feelings of empathy and frustration. In fact, the film impressively explores all the characters affected by Scott’s lifestyle and displays their faults, enhancing Apatow’s authentic style and his thorough look into the complexity of bereavement and the message of trying to move on.

All of these heavy topics are alleviated by self-deprecating humour. While some scenes feel fragmented and almost unnecessary, these can be credited for framing the narrative as less of a straight progression of events and more of a realistic depiction of adult struggles; scenes seem to just begin instead of being planned, almost as if the audience have intruded upon a genuine interaction between family and friends, which ultimately is what makes the characters (especially Scott) so convincing.

The King of Staten Island is a relaxing yet captivating watch. Apatow’s dedication to authenticity lays bare the difficulties of settling into adulthood, but provides enough comedy to prevent any quarter-life crises. Overall, it is a testament to Davidson’s career moving from strength to strength.

The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow, is distributed in the UK by Universal, certificate 15. It is available to rent via Amazon, iTunes and other VOD platforms.

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