Scott (Pete Davidson) has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister (Maude Apatow) heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Marisa Tomei) and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys–Oscar (Ricky Velez), Igor (Moises Arias) and Richie (Lou Wilson)–and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley). But when his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr), it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life.
Judd Apatow’s filmography has been quite rocky these past few years. He has made some genuinely funny and investing films throughout the years such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but in recent years he has put out duds like Trainwreck and This Is 40. All in all, though, he is a talented filmmaker and can do a lot of good when it is obvious that he cares about the script and the story, and this is one of those movies. The King of Staten Island is exactly that movie for him. It’s his best movie in over a decade without question.
Filled with an infectious sense of energy and heart, it’s a comedy-drama film that is full of life and laughs. It’s genuinely hard to not smile widely at many of the scenes here. The screenplay is by far one of the funniest of the entire year thus far, with a lot of the jokes making me laugh out laugh, which is something that I don’t always do. The screenwriters, Apatow, star Pete Davidson, and Dave Sirus write hilarious situations for our lead characters to get into that were equal parts funny and stressful.
But aside from all of that, the best aspect to the entire picture was definitely Pete Davidson as the titular character himself, Scott. Just a couple of months ago, Davidson starred in an excellent coming-of-age film Big Time Adolescence where he delivered a terrific performance that was both serious and comedic. I was impressed greatly by his work there, but his work as Scott was even better. Here he feels totally in control of the screen and it almost feels as if this character was built for him. After watching the film, I truly cannot imagine another actor stepping into this role thanks to Davidson’s extreme energy and charisma. He also works extremely well with his co-stars, namely Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr. All of the cast come together to deliver some of the best performances of the year so far.
But as with any movie really, The King of Staten Island is not without its faults. For one, the running time is a little bit too long. It’s not every day that you see a comedy-drama film such as this with a total length of one-hundred and thirty-six minutes, and here, you will definitely feel the length. For the first hour and a half or so, the pacing felt relatively smooth and fluent, but from that point onward, it felt as if it had outstayed its welcome.
In addition to that, I found that the comedic aspect of the film had taken a backseat towards the third act. It was nowhere near as funny as the two acts proceeding it, but it’s not a massive issue or anything. The third act favors more dramatic elements and while the tonal shift was uneven, I did ultimately appreciate the dramatic shift. This is easily Judd Apatow’s best movie since Knocked Up. He feels totally confident this time around which is something that we haven’t seen from him in a while.
The King of Staten Island showcases a wonderful performance from Pete Davidson that is further boosted by the greatly comedic and mostly well-paced screenplay.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 12, 2020
Running Time: 136 minutes