KING OF STATEN ISLAND- Review
At 24, Scott (Pete Davidson) is stuck in perpetual adolescence, living with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) in the Staten Island home where he grew up. Traumatized when his firefighter father was killed trying to rescue someone when Scott was seven, he has never recovered despite years of therapy and in fact, has built his persona around the trauma. His well-meaning, kind-hearted mother, an overworked ER nurse, has built her life around her son’s care, treating him as if he were a fragile patient. If fact, everyone seems to tip-toe around Scott as if he might break from his childhood trauma.
Scott himself embraces this view, dodging jobs and hanging out with high school pals Oscar (Ricky Velez), Igor (Moises Arias) and Richie (Lou Wilson), playing video games and smoking pot. Scott’s mom sent him to art college but he dropped out and now dreams of being a tattoo artist. When he encounters someone who calls his dad a hero or praises his bravery, Scott reacts with anger, as he blames firefighting for his father’s death.
When Scott’s long-widowed mother starts to date a guy named Ray (Bill Burr), a firefighter no less, big changes are in store for Scott.
Director Judd Apatow works his comedy magic once again in a story about another guy facing long-overdue change. Scott’s mother’s new life forces changes that he has avoided all his adult life, and Pete Davidson does an excellent job of mining this man-child character for comedy, while sensitively exploring the dramatic side of Scott’s his childhood pain, his dreams and his tentative steps towards adulthood.
The story, co-written by Apatow, Davidson, and Dave Sirus, has some semi-autobiographical elements for Pete Davidson. Davidson grew up on Staten Island, and the childhood loss of his firefighter father Scott Davidson, who was killed in 9/11, had a profound effect on his life.
Pete Davidson’s Scott is on the crazy-impractical side, a fellow with a dream of opening a combination tattoo parlor and restaurant, a concept only he thinks is a good idea. But he also has a certain loopy charm, and a good heart, which eventually shines. Forced into a job walking his mom’s boyfriend’s two kids to and from school, Scott finds a grown-up role that fits him. Hanging out with the kids, where Scott’s childlike view helps him bond with them, also forces him into the unfamiliar role of caring adult. Another twist brings Scott to the firehouse, where he discovers things about his dad and himself he never expected.
Davidson is aided by a supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi as a veteran fireman called Papa, who sort of takes Scott under his wing. But the real supporting cast standouts here are the women, Marisa Tomei as Scott’s solicitous mother Margie, who has to work through her own long-delayed issues, and Bel Powley is a scene-stealer as Scott’s funny would-be girlfriend Kelsey. While Kelsey is part of the gang of Scott’s childhood friends, unlike the guys, she has plans for her life that she is putting in place. Her mix of down-to-earth practicality, bluntness, and acceptance of Scott for who he is, makes her a memorable character, one who lights up every scene she’s in. Tomei, as always, brings her charm and energy to the role, making her both a sweet, supporting person and a funny, fun-loving one. Maude Apatow plays Scott’s younger sister Claire, a version of Davidson’s real-life sister, who is one of the few who does not coddle him, while still being a supportive, teasing sister.
THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND is classic Apatow and an excellent showcase for Pete Davidson’s comic talents, as well as an appealingly warm portrait of working-class Staten Island. It is available to stream on demand on Amazon Prime on June 12, 2020.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars