A new release!! Okay, it’s June and the movie market is– struggling. There’s been a handful of smaller films which have been hitting onDemand and streaming since the world became what it currently is, but very little has really caught fire. This week, we get one of the more hyped features from the brief 2020 film festival circuit with the onDemand release of The King of Staten Island.
The movie follows Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) a young man struggling to figure out the course of his life during his quarter century crisis. Things are complicated when his mother (Marisa Tomei) reenters the dating scene with a local firefighter (Bill Burr). This is more than seventeen years following the death of her husband, and Scott’s father– who was also a firefighter. Will Scott find a direction in life? Judd Apatow directs the film from a script he cowrote with Davidson and Dave Sirus.
Pete Davidson emerged as a relatively complicated, and often divisive figure in popular culture almost immediately following his debut on Saturday Night Live. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding his work on this movie. And as mentioned above, Davidson not only stars in the film, but he co-wrote the script as well. The story is a bit of a slice of life for the young comedian. His father was a firefighter killed when the World Trade Center collapsed during the September 11th terror attacks. Davidson was seven years old at the time.
His work in The King of Staten Island allows the often cut and dry Davidson to enter a new level of performance. Scott as a character does have some definite struggles with likability; however, in the grand scheme of the movie, this is a testament to the strength of Davidson’s performance. The actor wraps his head around Scott and very much brings the young man to life in all his challenges and his complexity. There’s a lot going on with this character and a tremendous amount that he’s facing; however, Davidson shines in the part. Here’s hoping this is a sign of his growth as a performer and we see him start to stretch his legs from here on out.
The supporting cast behind Davidson brings a similar strength. Marisa Tomei in particular shines as Scott’s mother, a woman who’s reached a place where she’s ready to move on with her life, but first and foremost, she’s still a mom. Much like Davidson, Tomei hones in on the complexity of the situation for her character. Ultimately, she’s been alone for seventeen years and she’s ready to move on. Unfortunately, she does love her troubled son and doesn’t want to see him struggle. Burr brings a solid performance as her love interest Ray Bishop. Also keep an eye out for the always amazing Steve Buscemi in a powerful supporting role.
While the film is a strong character portrait for Scott, The King of Staten Island struggles a bit with the depiction of the world around the characters. Everything seemed a bit too clean. This is a complex world and there are situations throughout that show just how challenging this life could be. However, the movie seems more interested in preserving the presence of the comedy within the script. As a result, there is never quite a feeling of real consequences for Scott– or the other characters for that matter. This would not only strengthen the narrative, but the other performances as well. All in all, The King of Staten Island ends up feeling a bit reminiscent of movies like Garden State. It is more invested in serving as an existential exploration of a characters trauma. While this can bring a certain power with the right performance, it feels out of date in today’s world.
Technically, the movie brings a strong visual presence thanks to the work of Robert Elswit as the director of photography in conjunction with director Apatow. The crafting of the cinematography, to the very distinct use of an almost dingy color palate, really helps in building the visual world of the film and telling this story.
Ultimately, there’s a lot of good work in The King of Staten Island. Given additional room to run, comedian Pete Davidson brings his work to a new level and really shines in the thinly veiled biopic. Unfortunately, in the hands of comedy director Judd Apatow, the film doesn’t achieve the full extent of its tonal reach, but even as is, the movie is a solid character exploration.
The King of Staten Island is available onDemand, beginning June 12th.