Judd Apatow directs Pete Davidson in the semi-autobiographical dramedy, The King of Staten Island.
This movie comes from a long tradition of semi-autobiographical films, such as Richard Pryor’s Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling or Eminem’s 8 Mile. The beauty of this setup is that it gives less trained actors more dramatic freedom, since they have lived so many of the scenes and scenarios. Staten Island is no exception to that rule.
The King of Staten Island is set up as an alternate history, exploring what would have become of Davidson’s life if he hadn’t found stand-up comedy and the success of Saturday Night Live. For those who are familiar with the comedian’s personal life, this look through a twisted mirror adds an extra layer of complexity to the film. However, for the public at large, this coming of age story may feel run of the mill.
The King of Staten Island Trailer
The King of Staten Island was co-written by Davidson, Apatow, and David Sirius, and it’s clear that this project was custom-built for Davidson’s unique brand of humor and personality. Pete Davidson is tasked with carrying the film from the first frames of the movie, and it is a steady showcase for the actor. However, while this movie proves that the comedian belongs on-screen, we may find that he will ultimately find his niche as a supporting actor.
The movie follows Scott, played by Pete Davidson, a 24-year old busboy who lives with his mother Margie and younger sister Claire, who is preparing to leave for college. Scott is the definition of a slacker and while he harbors a dream of opening a restaurant that doubles as a tattoo parlor, it’s clear that this is just another one in a string of failed goals for the character. Once his sister, played by Maude Apatow, leaves the nest Scott’s world begins to gradually turn upside down.
If you have followed Davidson from his career on-stage or on Saturday Night Live, he has self-deprecating edge and bares his personal life for the world to see. Apatow clearly identified this trait and centered The King of Staten Island around Davidson’s persona. Nowhere is this more apparent than when we first meet his crew of friends, who mercilessly joke and needle him about his deceased father. Apatow chooses to not reveal Scott’s father beyond framed photos, giving the mystery behind the heroic firefighter even more weight.
The supporting cast is what really makes The King of Staten Island move. Marisa Tomei plays his mother Margie, a New Jersey-fied version of her Aunt May character, who decides to make new life decisions once her daughter moves out for college. The movie kicks into gear when she falls for Ray, played by Bill Burr, a local firefighter that has secrets of his own and poses a new obstacle between Scott and his mother.
Burr shines in his role, getting the opportunity to showcase his trademark brand of acerbic humor. However, he equally impresses with his ability to show tenderness or heroism at the drop of a dime. His performance is one of the larger unexpected surprises in the film and proves that Burr has successfully made the transition from stand up comedian to actor.
The time spent in Ray’s firehouse with his co-workers is when The King of Staten Island seems to find his groove. As we get a thoughtful exploration of firemen’s lifestyle, while gaining a greater understanding of the support network that firemen provide for each other. Steve Buschemi is expertly cast as Papa, the wise firehouse chief whose warmth bolsters the film and who always seems to know what to say at the right time. Buschemi’s real life past as a fireman also adds another layer of realism and understanding to his performance.