Judd Apatow’s latest film is something of a new departure for a filmmaker whose body of work is peppered with assorted low-brow stoner comedies and other self-reflexive multigenerational narratives. Co-written by Apatow, Dave Sirus and Saturday Night Live regular cast member Pete Davidson, The King Of Staten Island is a beautifully understated, funny and all together more mature offering from the filmmaker whose more recent work has failed to replicate the success of some of his earlier work.
Starring Davidson, Bill Burr and Marisa Tomei, the film is semi-autobiographical story based on the young comedian’s life. It reimagines how things would have been for the famously self-deprecating comic if he had stayed put in his native Staten Island instead of taking up comedy at an early age. The film also touches on Davidson’s own tragic story of growing up without a father figure – his firefighter father died doing his job during the tragic events of 9/11 at the World Trade Centre.
At 24, Scott (Davidson) still lives with his mother (Tomei) and younger sister Claire (a hugely likeable Maude Apatow). With very few job prospects – his idea of one day opening a tattoo restaurant is both unrealistic and, let’s face it, not very hygienic – Scott has so far divided his days between hanging out with on-and-off girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Pawley), and smoking copious amounts of weed with his merry band of loser friends.
As Claire heads off to college, Scott is left wondering what to do with his life. Things are further complicated when his mother starts dating Ray (Burr), a loudmouth divorced firefighter to whom Scott takes an instant dislike. This sets off a chain of events which forces Scott to finally start dealing with the grief of losing his father at a young age.
Apatow presents a disarmingly heartwarming film which might not get everything right all the time, but which is ultimately saved by Davidson’s undeniably impressive screen presence. At 2 hours and 17 minutes running time, one could be forgiven for thinking this might turn into another laboured dud, but in reality the film manages to hold its own thorough by remaining true to its star’s own rebellious spirit.
While the script itself sometimes suffers from a lack of uniformity in storytelling stakes, there’s no denying that what Apatow has given us here is a beautifully simple and genuinely engaging story, which is more than anyone could have asked for.
Other performances to look out come courtesy of the inimitable Steve Buscemi as one of Ray’s fire-station buddies, while Monos’ Moises Arias puts in a brilliant turn as Scott’s eternally bewildered friend Igor. For her part, British actor Bel Pawley impresses greatly with a surprisingly convincing Staten Island accent.
Overall, The King of Staten Island offers a simply told and gorgeously acted story which has more charm and heart than the majority of recent Hollywood stoner comedies put together. Believe the hype, this is another unmissable and genuinely heartening offering from the ever expanding Apatow stable.