The 400-Word Review: The King of Staten Island
By Sean Collier
June 8, 2020
Judd Apatow, whose scruffy-guy-grows-up brand of writing defined big-screen comedy in the aughts, doesn’t really make comedies these days.
His movies are funny — in many scenes, very funny — and typically packed with the best American comic actors. Lately, however, they’re mostly about pain, uncertainty and loss. 2009’s “Funny People” investigated how a clown confronts death. 2012’s “This is 40” was an object lesson in the unattainable nature of happiness. Even 2015’s “Trainwreck,” Apatow’s closest thing to a broad comedy in more than a decade, was largely about the effects of self-sabotage.
“The King of Staten Island” takes this deconstruction a step further: Here, Apatow demolishes the arrested-development comedies he helped to popularize. Pete Davidson plays a version of himself, renamed Scott Carlin, in a tale largely inspired by his own struggles with early adulthood. In a pivotal opening-act scene, his younger sister (Maude Apatow) tells Carlin that everyone is constantly worried about his safety. “You should be,” he replies.
We, the audience, know of Davidson’s public (and occasionally very serious) struggles. The Carlin in the movie, however, isn’t a celebrity with an infinite support network; his path to stability is much more uncertain. Carlin’s father, a New York firefighter, died in a house fire when Scott was young — but not too young to escape deep trauma caused by his father’s passing. Now in his early 20s, Carlin is angry and struggling with mental-health issues. He burns days away living with his mother (Marisa Tomei); when she begins a new relationship, with another fireman (Bill Burr), she decides it’s finally time for Scott to move out. With that, his struggles develop into a legitimate crisis.
If anything, the circumstances of “King of Staten Island” are softened from Davidson’s actual life; Davidson’s father died during the 9/11 attacks. The film hews close enough to reality, however, to make Davidson’s performance effortless and compelling. He’s not necessarily a performer who is going to have a lot of range, but when he can stick close to type, he’s intriguing.
He’s also very funny. Most of the cast is very funny, and there is genuine, deeply felt humor throughout the film. Still, it cannot be mistaken for a comedy; it’s a drama that happens to be funny.
It’s not a dramedy, though. I’m still not sure precisely what a dramedy is, but I know that a dramedy is never this good.
My Rating: 9/10
“The King of Staten Island” will be available for digital rental this Friday.