The King of Staten Island is writer/director Judd Apatow doing his star-making comedy drama vehicle bit where he bestows fame upon a little known comedic voice by making them the lead of a movie, like in The 40 Year Old Virgin for Steve Carell, Knocked Up for Seth Rogen or Trainwreck for Amy Schumer. By now the contrivances are starting to show in the Apatow dramedy format. They’re generally about a directionless person and their wisecracking cadre of buddies, hard life lessons are learned, a whole lot of crass quips happen, wild supporting characters engage in shenanigans, the lead character grows up a little bit, Apatow family members have secondary roles in a blatant display of Hollywood nepotism, and the movie is too long. Although the format of the Apatow star-making vehicle has become stagnant the end result is still a decent movie. Which is kind of hard to pull off since King actively tries to make the main character fairly unlikable most of its running time.
Scott (Pete Davidson) is a shiftless, unemployed stay at home son with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei) who spends his days smoking weed with his layabout buddies and refusing to commit to a relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley). With Scott’s sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), heading off to college, Margie strikes up a relationship with a local Staten Island firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr). This is complicated because Scott was caught giving a tattoo to Ray’s nine year old son and also Scott’s dad was a firefighter who died on the job. With Scott getting increasingly perturbed by his mom’s new boyfriend it does not help his fragile mental state as his friends and girl are constantly putting him down and the situation with Ray comes to an explosive conclusion.
Aside from The 40 Year Old Virgin, most Apatow movie protagonists are basically jerks. Davidson ends up being one of the biggest Apatow protagonist jerks which is striking. This is probably due to the opening scene where Scott is showing driving at a high speed and closing his eyes, which eventually causes a significant, if not fatal, car crash. And all he does is apologize meekly to himself while driving away. It sort of crosses the line from depressed person to sociopath. Since the movie starts with Scott so far from being likable it’s a rough hill to climb to get him sympathetic by the end.
Still, Davidson puts in an interesting performance even though he is sort of whiny in practically every scene but he does throw out some good zingers. As often happens in Apatow movies, eventually the no good immature Apatow protagonist finds some life experience taking care of younger kids. Another bit that works especially well are moments that Scott has with his sister which have some deep emotional truth as she believes Scott can be better than what he is trying to be. It is remarkably annoying that Judd Apatow keeps casting his family in his movies as he has now moved on from putting his wife in everything to putting his daughter in everything. Still Maude Apatow is good because she conveys how exhausted Claire is with her brother.
Also exhausted is Kelsey as Scott’s not official girlfriend and Powley’s reactions to Davidson’s meekness at commitment are pretty funny. Burr as Ray comes into the movie at full throated roaring anger at Scott tattooing his kid and he slowly becomes more likable with Margie as the movie goes on. Scott’s quips about the absurdity of Ray’s mustache are pretty great and they have a striking confrontation scene between them where Ray tosses Scott into a pool. As Scott’s mom, Tomei is always dependably great as the romance between her and Ray isn’t filler but is genuinely heartwarming about finding love later in life. The way she treats Scott is sweet and there’s a good twist upon her finding out that Ray and Scott were having a brawl. The third act stuff features a lot of Scott and Ray which will work depending if one likes seeing these characters together, although it eventually gets sappy as Apatow movies often do.
At 2 hours and 17 minutes, the length of the movie is particularly punishing for what should be a zippy comedy, but Apatow has given up on keeping comedy short back when he made draggy 2 hour and 30 minute Funny People. A lot of the length of his movies is based upon cobbling together stretches of actors riffing into a single scene. Also Apatow loves a good montage and there are a few of them here, like Scott walking Ray’s kids to school, or a montage about Scott learning the ropes about life at the fire station.
Still, despite pieces cobbled together from the standard Apatow movie playbook, there is some solid stuff here as he is still fantastic at putting together funny jokey hang out scenes between buddies. And while it has been done before, Apatow can still find emotional truths. The King of Staten Island is not the most original Judd Apatow movie but it is hung upon a rather sturdy framework that overall remains entertaining.
The King of Staten Island
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Pete Davidson, Bel Powley and Ricky Velez