Mary Cybulski, Universal Pictures
In one of the first scenes in Judd Apatow's new comedy King of Staten Island,
Scott (Pete Davidson) and Kelsey (Bel Powley) have one of those awkward define-this-relationship conversations after sex. They're grade-school chums, now both in their mid-twenties with nothing quite figured out, and Kelsey's angling for a legit relationship.
Scott's making what appear to be conventional dudebro excuses that will absolve him from emotional commitment while keeping the physical intimacy. But then he reveals that he's dealing with a pretty serious mental illness. Later in the film, it's referred to as "ADD," but Scott defines it less clinically: He makes impulsive decisions, he says. He's mouthy. He's a danger to himself and others. And he doesn't want to put Kelsey in a position where he might hurt her.
It's one of the film's most sharply written and strongly acted scenes, and it's undercut by the lolloping remainder of the 136-minute run time, which exudes an Apatowian sentimentality but is nevertheless superficial and overlong. The revelations of that early scene hardly come into play at all.
Like some of Apatow's previous comedies (The 40-Year-old Virgin, Knocked Up
), King of Staten Island
is billed as a coming-out party for a rising comedic talent. It's Pete Davidson's feature-film debut after several rambunctious years on SNL. He joined the show's cast at age 20 in 2014 and is still known as much for his personal life as he is for his performances. Co-written by Apatow, Davidson and SNL writer Dave Sirus, the film is in fact a loose retelling of Davidson's life. Davidson's father was an NYC fireman who died on 9/11, notably. In the film, Scott's father is a fireman who died on the job, though not in the 9/11 attacks.
Scott is a tattooed Staten Island bum. He lives with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and has no real career prospects. He mostly hangs out with his buddies, doing so many assorted drugs that he doesn't even get high anymore. He claims to want to start a tattoo parlor / restaurant hybrid, but the idea is a total fantasy. And while he aspires to being a tattoo artist, his ink work is comically bad.
So is his judgement. After "practicing" his tattoo skills on a 10-year-old he meets near the beach — "Do I have your legal consent," Scott asks the child — the boy's father Ray (Bill Burr) tracks him down and demands money for tattoo removal treatment. Ray turns out to be a fireman, too, and he and Margie start dating, a development to which Scott strenuously objects. For awhile, the film kinda centers on this dynamic. Then Scott and Ray duke it out and Margie kicks them both out of the house. With nowhere to turn, Scott camps out at the firehouse and learns some lessons about life and manhood from Ray and the fire chief, (a pitch-perfect Steve Buscemi). It's not Scott's mental illness, but his father's death which has vexed his life thus far, Ray seems to realize.
Through all this, Kelsey barely appears! Like Margie and Ray's ex-wife Gina (Pamela Adlon), she doesn't have a ton of screentime. She's just one of the peripheral figures who flit in and out of Scott's milieu. I'm remembering now that there's a robbery
subplot which weirdly has zero impact on Scott's life or friendships. Beyond just portraying Scott's life,
the film never quite seems sure what it's about or where it's headed.
But to the extent you connect with, or are entertained by, the lovable, brassy Staten Island misfits, you may not mind. In the end, it's a sweet, clumsy B/B- flick that fans of Apatow and/or Davidson are likely to appreciate despite its flaws. It'll be available on VOD Friday.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.