I don’t normally write film reviews, but I just happened to watch The King of Staten Island last night and there were so many things I liked about this film, I decided to make an exception. Also, the main character in the film is so stressed out during the entire film, it really intrigued me.
Photo: Pete Davidson who plays the main character in THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND 2020 Universal Pictures. PHOTO BY MARY CYBULSKI / UNIVERSAL PICTURES
I usually wait until I’ve seen a film at least twice before I pronounce it great, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND is truly great and I predict it will stand up to multiple viewings over time. I notice it only got a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, which further erodes my belief in that rating system since I’ve seen several films lately that were in the high 90’s that I truly HATED.
This film is directed and co-written by Judd Apatow whose credits include Train Wreck, The Forty Year Old Virgin, and even the HBO series Girls, so you may already be familiar with his work. Mostly he writes and directs comedies and the King of Staten Island is no exception. I haven’t seen all of Apatow’s films, but this feels truly different from the other ones I’ve seen. Yes, there’s a LOT of f-bombs (which may be the only reason it’s rated R) and some ribald behavior, but there’s a maturity to this film that I haven’t really seen in Apatow’s other films, either.
It stars Pete Davidson the young Saturday Night Live actor who does quirky skits on SNL that I haven’t always liked. The supporting cast members include Marisa Tomei, (who plays his mom) Steve Buscemi, (who plays a fire chief) Bill Burr (who plays his Mom’s suitor) and even Judd Apatow’s daughter Maude (who plays his sister). All the performances are truly amazing. Here’s a link to the trailer.
The main character in the movie, Scott, played by Davidson, is 25 years old and still living in his mom’s house. The character’s father in the movie was a firefighter and died (fighting a fire) when Scott was just seven years old. This fact informs this whole movie from beginning to end and gives what would have otherwise been another one of Judd Apatow’s light-hearted (some might even call them vapid) movies real and ultimately, heartwarming impact. But what is truly a real shocker (and perhaps what makes this movie feel so REAL) is that in actuality, Pete Davidson’s real father (Scott Davidson) was a fireman and died in New York City on 9/11. Pete is co-author of this script.
Pete’s character is a psychological mess and what is maybe the most brilliant (and funny) part of this movie is that he is FULLY aware of how messed up he is. Besides having a life which is a hot mess, his character has Chron’s Disease, which is a severe digestive disorder, often times associated with chronic stress. The movie ultimately explores (with depth, humility and pinpoint accuracy) what it means to be a real hero. And all through this movie, you realize the inescapable irony that one person’s heroism could directly give birth to another person’s neuroticism.
When Pete meets and ultimately begins hanging out with the firefighters at his father’s old firehouse we get to see – here played with true to life accuracy by actual firefighters – the culture of the firehouse, it’s amusing moments as well as it’s harrowing moments. Heroism is put in REAL context - and humor always plays a part in this culture, so it feels quite natural when the firefighters even make fun of Scott’s heroic father. And equally surprising is that his Dad’s real shortcomings, wind up comforting Scott, particularly when they tell him that his father reminds them of him. i.e., he was a bit crazy, too.
I really can’t recommend this film enough. If you are a New Yorker, or live near New York like I do, you will truly get it. If you are from somewhere else, and don’t mind a movie that gets an R rating for being a little bit racy and having a LOT of bad language, but not violent or really sexual at all, give it a shot. I laughed out-loud maybe 50 times during the two hour and twenty minute movie, and when Scott takes a ride on the firetruck to a real fire and sees what heroes these firefighter’s truly are, I couldn’t help but get emotional, too.