The King of Staten Island is another win for director Judd Apatow, who last left movie goers with his career-best work in Trainwreck. It appears, though, that the filmmaker was preparing for The King of Staten Island with Trainwreck. Just as he gave comedienne Amy Schumer a platform to expand on her own stand-up about her self-consciousness with the opposite sex, he gives SNL comic Pete Davidson this movie to explore his upbringing in this, presumably, autobiographical love letter to Davidson’s home and family.
Davidson plays Scott, a Staten Island native who is known for his frank sarcasm and imperfect tattoo artistry. After some really funny scenes of Scott being sly and confrontational, we later find out that his blunt humour is, in fact, a defence mechanism to keep people at an emotional distance. Scott still hasn’t recovered from losing his firefighter father as a young child and, although he appreciates everything his mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) does for him, this chip on Scott’s shoulder prevents him from personal growth or making new connections. But, Scott’s reluctance is forced to bloom when newly divorced Ray (Bill Burr) meets Margie under unusual circumstances. The recovering parents hit it off and develop a sweet romance. Scott becomes incredibly defensive and even offended when he finds out Ray is also a firefighter. But, Scott quickly learns that life doesn’t revolve around him as he’s taught a hands-on lesson in maturity.
The King of Staten Island is a hilarious genuine gem, featuring every actor in their best element. Apatow once again proves he has an endearing knack for identifying an actor’s key strength and figuring out how to direct it to best benefit a story and the actor’s performance. Davidson, who also co-wrote and co-produced the movie, has natural wit. Together, Apatow and Davidson workshop this talent to perfectly fit within the movie’s loose narrative; a story that acts more as a slice of life as Scott interacts with his neighbourhood. Davidson deserves bonus points for figuring out how to interpret Scott’s stubbornness in ways for the audience to be amused by.
The other standout is Burr, another comedian who is utilized similarly to Davidson. Burr’s seasoned stickler persona hits a fantastic inner conflict for Ray: sheer frustration and anger is eventually channeled as passionate emotion towards motivating those who previously disappointed him. This performance ends up playing a key part in delivering the film’s message about the power of selflessly encouraging others towards their own growth.
The King of Staten Island is a breakout vehicle for everyone involved. Especially Apatow, who may be crowned the achievement of having made the best film of the year.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie