Released: 16th July
Seen: 23rd July
It has to be said that one of Judd Apatow’s greatest talents is how he creates a film to support his leads. If you’re Judd’s friend and he makes you the star of his film, chances are it’s going to show off your talents in the best light possible. He made the film that turned Steve Carrell into a household name, he managed to give Amy Schumer a great comedy that shot her into the stratosphere… hell, he’s responsible for one of the last good Adam Sandler movies. His skill is undeniable and now he’s taken that ability to work with someone’s strengths to SNL regular Pete Davidson and created a genuinely great little film.
The King of Staten Island is a semi biographical story of the life of Pete Davidson, who here is playing Scott Carlin. Scott is a 24 year old high school dropout that still lives at home with his mother and spends his days alternating between smoking weed, tattooing his friends, and generally annoying his sister. He also is trying to get by with a variety of ailments from Crohn’s disease to depression, the latter suggested to be brought on by the loss of his firefighter father when Scott was a kid. Due to a series of circumstances that may involve almost tattooing a small child, Scott ends up inadvertently introducing his mother Maggie (Marissa Tomei) to local firefighter Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) and in doing so starts a journey that not only will require him to confront his feelings around his late father but also to finally start growing up.
The director describes this film as a look into Pete Davidson’s life if Pete had never found comedy and, as such a story, it heavily relies on the likability of its main actor. Fortunately for this film, that’s not a problem because Pete probably gives one of the best performances of the year in this film. He’s able to be vulnerable and really let you in on something personal while also just being disarmingly funny. The entire film rests on his shoulders and he manages to carry it with deceptive ease, able to make the heavy subject matter accessible with his calm performance that has moments of intensity that sells everything.
When I say this film has heavy subject matter, I’m not kidding around. Depression, drug abuse, neglect, familial death and self-harm are all touched on in some way by the story and each one is treated as just a part of life. They’re never made into a big deal, this is just part of what the characters have to deal with and they don’t treat it with kid gloves which is refreshing. So many films would try and make the depression plotline part of the character arc, have them start low and end seemingly cured but this film is willing to admit that these things aren’t that easy. Instead the arc is about trying to find a way to make it in the world even with all these hurdles, which is a much more interesting way of handling these topics.
The part of the film that really doesn’t work is its structure, there’s several points where major storylines are just thrown aside before we’re properly done with them. Seriously huge plotlines are just tossed aside with a quick joke because we need to get rid of some excess characters even though the action that gets rid of them should seriously impact our main character in some way. It feels a little disjointed in several places, almost like there are scenes missing which I shouldn’t be feeling with a 2 hour long film. It ends up making it a little harder to really latch onto the story, which admittedly isn’t the focus since this is more of a character piece but it’s still not helpful to constantly wonder “Wait, where did so-and-so go?” or realise that something major in act two isn’t going to have anything resembling a proper conclusion.
On the whole, The King of Staten Island is a great character study with one of the most relatable lead characters I’ve seen in a long time. We can all relate to a guy who is constantly depressed who thinks the entire world has gone to shit and doesn’t have the energy to truly participate in it, especially nowadays. With a great cast, some genuinely hilarious dialogue and a whole lot of heart, this is probably the best new film we’re going to get for a while so enjoy it while you can.