By Luke Schlauder, Opinion
“The King of Staten Island” is the theatrical comedy version of Pete Davidson’s life, minus anything that ever made him famous.
In regular Judd Apatow fashion, the film has relentless wit following Davidson’s character, Scott, through real-life trials and tribulations that he’s faced. After losing his firefighter dad at a young age, Scott’s life is full emotional trauma. His sister Claire, played by Apatow’s daughter, Maude Apatow, graduates high school and his mom starts dating firefighter Ray, played by standup comedian Bill Burr. Meanwhile, Scott is making little progress towards his dream of opening a tattoo-restaurant.
Notably, this film strives not to take the easy way out. Davidson’s actual dad passed away responding to a call at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, although in the film they made the conscious decision to tell the story without including this fact. It also puts the spotlight on Davidson before Ariana Grande, SNL and standup comedy were part of his biography, which leaves him looking like a normal millennial.
Davidson’s performance is mostly limited to comedic effect and sarcastic dialogue not dissimilar to his standup impressions of himself. If it were not for the big names previously mentioned and the likes of actors Steve Buscemi, Bel Powley and Moises Arias, the film would definitely struggle with an identity problem. They carry Davidson in a way that almost didn’t make me question the depth of his character. For instance, when Claire is leaving for college and she goes into hysterics when Scott says he “might hurt himself,” it was confusing because his sarcastic voice came across as so disingenuous and insincere, but rendered such a dramatic response from Apatow’s character.
The real problem is that the film doesn’t play into Scott’s wild side enough. At one point, Claire said, “You are so crazy that you make everyone around you feel crazy,” to Scott, and it really didn’t resonate with the rest of the film. While Scott is a lazy, unemployed, homeless, pothead that never got his own place and tried to help his friends rob a pharmacy, that fits the description of a lot of millennials these days and shouldn’t be considered such lunacy that it makes everyone around them crazy.
It does a decently good job at connecting Davidson’s childhood trauma with the culturally iconic status he’s escalated to, although the film needed to either focus more on the depth of that trauma or delve into his “crazy” lifestyle without holding back. Actually, connecting the story to some of the things that happened in Davidson’s career might have helped ground it and give it more purpose.
Overall, the film doesn’t make any compelling statements. By grounding Davidson’s character in the reality of his childhood and not his stardom, the story is a bit of a wet blanket.