The King of Staten Island

Since his firefighter father died heroically when he was only seven, 24 year-old Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) hasn’t been able to get his life together, spending his days smoking weed with his buddies Oscar (Ricky Velez), Richie (Lou Wilson) and Igor (Moises Arias, "Monos") in his mother’s basement.  Kelsey (Bel Powley, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl") is upset that their friends-with-benefits relationship is kept under wraps while Scott’s sister Claire (Maude Apatow) worries about him when she’s not fighting with him.  But when mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) starts to date for the first time in seventeen years, and a firefighter at that, Scott faces an arrested coming-of-age as “The King of Staten Island.”

Laura's Review: B

A semi-fictitious autobiographical portrait of its star, cowritten by him and buddy Dave Sirius along with director Judd Apatow ("Trainwreck"), “The King of Staten Island” is a family and friends affair on both sides of the camera.  As usual with Apatow films, it runs a bit long (and feels it), but Davidson effortlessly carries his character study nestled within a community portrait.  This isn’t a laugh-a-minute comedy, instead a dramedy where tattoos both artful and inelegant draw the biggest guffaws.

In the modest Carlin home, women are trying to socialize their men.  The downstairs entreaties to go dancing are overruled with “The Purge” and pot smoking while upstairs Margie and Claire plead with Scott to choose a suit for Claire’s high school graduation party, Margie participating by phone from one of her jobs as a school nurse (the latter team win, Scott’s mom clearly holding sway).  At the McMansion coparty held by Claire’s best friend Joanne’s parents for both girls, Margie tries to deflect criticism of her son by noting his tattoo work, but when she brandishes her own sample on her inner arm, she’s asked if it’s a cocker spaniel.  It’s Claire.

It will be Scott’s inking aspirations that begin to shift the ground beneath his feet.  While hanging with his male buddies out by the water, nine year-old Harold (Luke David Blumm) approaches and expresses interest in Scott’s body art and his desire for a Punisher tat.  Scott whips out his tattooing needle, gets the kid’s ‘consent,’ then sets to work, but Harold screams in pain and runs.  Later that day, Margie will open the door to the irate Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), his son Harold in tow, raging about her son’s egregious over stepping.  He returns the next day to apologize for the intensity of his outburst after having learned Margie is the widow of a fallen firefighter.  A flirtation begins.  Scott’s punishment is to make him responsible for getting Ray’s kids, Harold and younger sister Kelly (Alexis Rae Forlenza), to school.  Scott’s revulsion for Ray is fed by Ray's ex-wife Gina (Pamela Adlon), but then Ray takes him to a Staten Island Yankees game where Scott is introduced to firefighting vets like Papa (Steve Buscemi) who knew his dad…and then Scott begins to spend time in the firehouse.

While his alter ego is an aimless stoner who causes his harried mom no end of trouble, Davidson accomplishes that tricky balance of keeping his character likable.  True he has problems, his father’s death a psychological scar tattooed onto his arm, his health and mental well being taxed by Crohn’s disease and ADHD, but Scott doesn’t openly wallow in his issues, using humor to deflect pain.  This ability is even recognized openly in the film, Papa saying ‘I like this kid,’ when Scott complains about having to wash a fire engine considering its destination.  He is supported by family and friends but rebellions, such as Igor’s anger at being used as Scott’s ‘practice canvas,’ allow the character introspection (and Igor’s cat tattoo, in which his belly button has been conscripted as the cat’s anus, is one of the film’s great visual gags).

The film’s supporting cast is comprised of quite the mix, everyone from vets like Buscemi to character actors like Kevin Corrigan to Pete’s real paternal grandfather Stephen (as his grandfather).  Stand up comic Burr, an idol of Davidson’s, melds right in.  Powley so nails the Staten Islander, those who don’t know will be amazed to learn she’s a Brit.  But first among equals is Tomei, really strong here as the mother juggling too many plates, whose unconditional love of her son reaches its apex when she throws him out.  She conveys warmth, humor, optimism and sex appeal beneath a veneer of exhaustion.         

Apatow’s achieved a real sense of community with his diversely cast ensemble and one comes away from the film having a strong impression of what makes Staten Island unique, such landmarks as Denino’s playing themselves, the borough’s neighborhoods and topography distinct.  While the film’s overstuffed, encompassing everything from family gatherings to drug store robberies to a (corny) firefighting instructional, Apatow avoids overt sentimentality as his “King of Staten Island” learns life lessons.

Robin's Review: B+

Scott (Pete Davidson) has ADD, lost his firefighter dad when just seven, is in his mid-twenties and still lives at home with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), dreams of opening a tattoo restaurant and spends most of his time hanging out with his friends and getting stoned. When Margie starts dating bellicose Ray (Bill Burr), also a firefighter, Scott must grapple with the new facts of life in “The King of Staten Island.”

Like anyone who has watched SNL, I have been aware of Pete Davidson and his quirky, funny talents, but I never wondered about his acting ability and filmmaking skills. He teams with uber-comedy director Judd Apatow and they co-write, with Dave Sirus, what is a semi-biographical story of the film’s star.

Scott has never gotten over the loss of his dad, even these many years later, on 9/11. The life-changing event impacted young Scott ever since making him the center of concerned attention for his mom, to the chagrin of his younger, college-bound sister, Claire (Maude Apatow). Both mother and sis have always been there for Scott, until now.

Scott has a hard time with the fact that his always supportive sister is going away to school. This is bad enough for the needy twenty-something, but matters get worse when aspiring tattoo artist Scott, while hanging out with his buds and smoking pot, offers to give a nine-year old boy, Harold (Luke David Blumm), arm art – with the boy’s permission of course.

Harold’s father, Ray, is furious at Scott and tells Margie off with no uncertain words. But, he returns to apologize for his rude behavior and asks her out for a cup of coffee. For the first time since she lost her husband, 17 years before, she begins dating and Scott is none too pleased with it.

While, with Apatow and SNL regular Davidson aboard, “”The King of Staten Island” is offered as a comedy, it is, in fact a character study of a young man who has never been able to grapple with a grief that has been his existence for most of his life. The story, and Scott, changes as he finally starts to make a move, however difficult, to turn his life, and his grief, around.

I have to say, I did not expect Judd Apatow to come up with a “serious” story that is about sadness and loss but one with humor and hope for Scott. Nor did I expect such a fully formed character from Pete Davidson, probably because my experience with the comedian is through his sketch comedy of SNL. I was also impressed with the depth of the supporting cast, particularly the director’s daughter, Maude, as Scott’s caring sister. Marisa Tomei is a real pleasure and is often the film’s anchor point. Good job all around.