Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is a 24-year-old high school dropout, who lives on Staten Island. His life is going nowhere because he has no job and spends most of his days hanging with his friends in a basement, smoking weed and playing computer games. Scott is afflicted with Crohn’s disease and ADHD, but it is the death of his father, when Scott was 7, that has most deeply affected the young man’s life. He has been on “pause” since he was a child.
His younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is about to leave home for college and she fears what will happen to her brother when she isn’t around. The pair don’t get on because she believes he has been over-indulged by their mother Margie (Marisa Tomei), but she thinks Scott’s neediness and neurotic behaviour will worsen once he only has Margie to talk with and focus on. Claire leaving for college is not only her stepping out into the world as an adult, but to some extent it’s her escape from home, particularly from her brother.
Scott has a girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley), whom he keeps secret, which is not what she wants. Their relationship is all on his terms. He also has a dream of being a tattoo artist, but no plan to make that happen. Through a series of events that he accidentally puts in motion, a man called Ray (Bill Burr) ends up dating Margie. There is nothing that Scott wants more than to break up the pair. He is not emotionally or mentally equipped to deal with his mother dating. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Ray is a firefighter, the job that Scott’s father had. He died while attempting to save people from a house fire.
Pete Davidson is the lead of THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND. He is a stand-up comedian who is best known as a cast member of television’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. He became even better known in recent years for dating a variety of celebrities and has an extremely dedicated following of young fans. He is 26 and his audience are the younger Millennials and the Gen Zs. I mention this if you’re reading this review and wondering who Mr Davidson is. The fact he was on-again-off-again with Ariana Grande and is known for his dedication to smoking weed may mean nothing to you, but to the people who love him, Pete is a very big deal indeed. This movie puts a considerable responsibility to deliver on his head. I personally find him only kind-of funny when I see him on television; To this old man, he comes off as a stoner who is too cool to work at his material.
However, another old man called Judd Apatow sees Davidson’s talents rather differently. He has co-written (along with Dave Sirius) a character that is based on much, but not all, of Davidson’s biography. Although we are undoubtedly in Man-Child-Must-Grow territory, which is familiar to Apatow’s audience from THE 40-YEAR-OLD-VIRGIN (2005) and KNOCKED UP (2007), it also shares DNA with TRAINWRECK (2015) in the amount it takes from the star comedian’s personal life to make that character more relatable. Apatow’s collaborators place their trust in a director, writer and producer who knows not only movie-making but also has a great knowledge of filmic and stand-up comedy.
Davidson’s Scott Carlin is the best thing he has done. The character has layers. His personal development has been affected by a central trauma he can’t get over. The damage is genuine; however, he exploits it relentlessly and has grown into a quite selfish young adult. Unwrapping this detail and showing us the other parts that make up Scott’s flawed character is partly why this clocks in at 136 minutes. The movies Apatow co-writes and directs tend to run over two hours. There is often a hangout component and scenes that don’t necessarily contribute to the overall plot but will fill in extra character detail. The Apatow-verse suggests that life is sprawling and stories aren’t easily tied-up in a bow.
Bill Burr is good as the upstanding fireman and he has chemistry with Marisa Tomei’s Margie character. She has been ground down by years of dealing with her wayward son. Bel Powley is excellent as Kelsey. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time, yet she memorably portrays a young woman who is utterly convinced that Staten Island will be the Next Big Thing and is becoming increasingly disappointed with Scott as a boyfriend. Steve Buscemi does a nice job playing an older fireman who knows Ray and also knew Scott’s late father. This casting continues the links back with the real world as Buscemi’s time as a FDNY firefighter in the 1980s has become well-known to fans of the actor.
THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND is a thoughtful comedy that raises the bar for both Apatow and Davidson. (7.5/10). In cinemas now.