‘King of Staten Island’ review: Pete Davidson triumphs in blissful comedy

#‘King of Staten Island’ review: Pete Davidson triumphs in blissful comedy

June 8, 2020 | 1:54pm | Updated June 8, 2020 | 1:54pm

Running time: 136 minutes. Rated R (language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images).

You’ll want to give Pete Davidson a hug after watching his revealing new comedy “The King of Staten Island.”

The wonderful movie borrows a lot of heavy realities from the “Saturday Night Live” star’s own life: his character Scott lost his firefighter father at age 7; he still lives on Staten Island with his mom; and he makes more brow-raising choices than Kanye.

And, also like the real-life Davidson, there is nary a moment where Scott isn’t the most likable person on the damn planet.

That’s director Judd Apatow’s signature move: taking a talent we love — Davidson, Steve Carell, Amy Schumer, tenderizing them with a cinematic meat mallet and delivering an emotional wallop of a film we didn’t know they were capable of.

“The King of Staten Island,” which is co-written by Davidson, Apatow and Dave Sirus, is a grounded fantasy of what the actor’s life might’ve turned out to be had he not found comedy. If this well-meaning sad sack is Davidson’s best guess, thank God the man picked up a microphone.

For instance, before his sister Claire’s (Maude Apatow) high school graduation, Scott lumbers upstairs from his man-child basement bedroom dressed like a slob. “Mom! He looks like the guy who sells crack under the bridge!,” Claire says.

“I know the guy who sells crack under the bridge,” Scott replies. “And he’s awesome!”


Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) and Papa (Steve Buscemi) in “The King of Staten Island.”

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictur


Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) in the new Judd Apatow film.

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictur


Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin.

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictur

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A combo of equal-and-opposite events forces the emotionally paralyzed guy, who dreams of becoming a tattoo artist, to grab the reins of his floundering life. Scott’s mom (Marisa Tomei) starts dating a firefighter (Bill Burr) who knew his dad, setting Scott’s feeling ablaze, and his townie friends begin dipping their toes in armed robbery. Tomei, who makes a perfect mom, can turn out memorable New York characters in her sleep.

Many movies have been shot on Staten Island, but too often it’s used as a stand-in for somewhere else (the wedding scene in “The Godfather”) or portrayed as a place that exists to be departed on the ferry (“Working Girl”). The last unabashedly SI-set movie was 2018’s “The First Purge,” which, being about a government-sanctioned murderous free-for-all, is not the best tourism commercial.

But every second of this movie takes place in its titular borough and treats it with the affection of a 14-mile-long “Cheers” bar even as it reckons with its iffy reputation.

“We’re like the only place New Jersey looks down on,” Scott tells his sometime girlfriend, Kelsey (Bel Powley, terrific).

“You watch!” the SI booster shoots back. “This place is gonna be like Williamsburg in 10 years!” God forbid.

The film, which Apatow wisely gives less sheen than his usual film comedies, is filled with Davidson’s recognizable style of blunt, awkward jokes. You know, like in the music video he filmed for “SNL at Home,” in which he rapped, “This is a Drake song. I miss my ex. This is a Drake song.”

The difference here is the heartfelt honesty they’re paired with. There is so much pain in Scott watching his little sister graduate and leave for college while he stays put in more ways than one. Later in the film, he reconnects with the local fire station — including Steve Buscemi — a place he avoided and resented, and the scenes will make you laugh but also have your eyes producing more water than a hydrant.

None of the film is shamelessly sentimental, however. The reason these moments pack the punch they do are the across-the-board expertly tuned performances from born-and-bred New Yorkers such as Davidson, Tomei, Buscemi and, heck, Davidson’s real grandpa, who instinctively know — or even are — these eccentric local characters.

The final shot of Apatow’s movie is the iconic Staten Island Ferry, bringing to mind “Working Girl,” “Manhattan” and countless other New York City classics. “The King of Staten Island” joins that list.


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