I almost called it quits just twenty minutes into “The King of Staten Island” because it started off like a lazy film about unlikable slackers and felt like the story was going nowhere. I’m so happy I stuck with it because not only did the movie pick up dramatically, but it came to light that it was probably the point of the early scenes to show the aimlessness of the characters. This film will not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you can get through the first half hour, you’ll be rewarded with something special.
Scott (Pete Davidson) is a loser with wild dreams of becoming a tattoo artist. He doesn’t have a steady job and instead chooses to hang out in his mom Margie’s (Marisa Tomei) basement, smoking pot, playing video games, and making bad choices with his fellow Millennial buddies who’ve lost their way. Scott is 24 years old and still lives with his mother, suffering from depression that stems from his firefighter father’s tragic death on the job seventeen years earlier. He’s never been able to fully grieve and has never fully come to terms with his dad’s death. Sometimes suicidal, Scott still acts like a fourth grader — especially when his mom starts dating a divorced fireman (Bill Burr) who worked with his dad.
This is not just another tale of arrested development, but is a movie that’s both heartbreaking yet filled with hope. The story (co-written by Davidson and director Judd Apatow) is semi-autobiographical and based on Davidson’s life. To that end, it feels very personal. Apatow is able to draw a performance from his lead that comes from a place deep within, making the story even more poignant. Davidson has an awkward charm that fits the late bloomer, even if half the time you want to slap him for all the stupid decisions he makes. The supporting cast is perfect in every way, especially Bel Powley‘s would-be girlfriend Kelsey. She’s a person who always sees the good in Scott and never gives up on his potential.
The movie is a little indulgent and overly long, and viewers will find more meaning in the banter if they hail from or know Staten Island. This is undoubtedly a drama, but Apatow adds just enough splashes of humor to keep the film more lighthearted than not.
“The King of Staten Island” is not your average coming-of-age tale, but its sincerity resonates with more meaning than others. It’s a touching story about the stumbling blocks some people face when searching for their place in the world, and the value that friendship and mentorship add when trying to move forward in life.