Review: Pete Davidson is 'The King of Staten Island'

Published on June 8, 2020

There’s something slightly John Hughes about The King of Staten Island, which is the latest heartfelt comedy from Judd Apatow. Like Hughes, Apatow shows great empathy for the young, the 20-somethings meandering along. With Knocked Up, Trainwreck, and what would roundout a thematic trilogy of delayed coming-of-age tales, The King of Staten Island, Apatow continues to mine pathos and laughs out of the quarter life crisis. 

The Story Goes

Davidson, who co-wrote the comedy, is Scott. Scott lives at home with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and doesn’t have much going on in his life. He smokes pot with his friends, goofs around and dreams of becoming a tattoo artist, and that’s about it. Scott isn’t going anywhere, at least at the beginning of The King of Staten Island. Once Margie starts dating a firefighter (played by Bill Burr), Scott’s seemingly carefree life begins to unravel. 

Pete Davidson Shines

Davidson, known best for Saturday Night Live, gives a movie star performance in The King of Staten Island. From scene to scene, and he’s in almost every scene, he’s charismatic. For a comedy well over two hours, Davidson always remains an entertaining and empathetic presence. David and Apatow make you feel deeply what Scott is feeling. Even when Scott is at his worst, most selfish or clueless, Davidson communicates a pain behind it all.

Pain and Laughs 

At times, Apatow’s drama packs quite a punch, especially followed by some very pleasant laughs. Apatow will let intense feelings linger in his comedies. He won’t always jump to the next joke right away to lighten things up. Sometimes Apatow’s laxed pacing is refreshing as it allows moments and feelings to breath longer than they do in most comedies. The King of Staten Island is very much like Apatow’s greatest film, Funny People. Because their drama carries real weight, they earn their length. 

New Apatow Characters to Love

Plus, some Apatow worlds you just want to stay in for a long time. Apatow’s characters are fun to watch hanging out, that’s all there is to it. There’s an extraneous moment or two in The King of Staten Island, sure, but even a throwaway moment or gag from Apatow has its charms. As ensemble movies, everyone gets their due in an Apatow pic. No character is ever wasted. 

Margie is far more than a concerned mother, for example. There’s real pain there, too. Tomei, whose comedy chops are stellar (My Cousin Vinny and beyond), is a great pairing for Davidson. It’s a very charismatic and endearing mother-son pairing. They’re joined by comedian Bill Burr, who gives a breakout performance along with Davidson. Burr, a natural stage presence, now feels completely natural on film. It’s wonderful to see a comedian as hard as Burr play sensitive and tender, although he still gets laughs when his temper gets the best of him.

The King of Staten Island is packed with characters you want to watch. Even the smallest of supporting characters could be the stars of their own movies, including the great comedian Keith Robbinson as a security guard. 

A Soulful Feel-Good Comedy 

The laughs in Apatow’s comedies are made all the sweeter by the heartbreak and disappointments in his stories. It’s the sweet and the sour of life. Apatow can convey both with such truth and relatability. You know the people he depicts on-screen. They’re real. When they’re happy, you as an audience member are happy. Apatow just gets you on his characters’ wavelength so naturally. There’s a beauty to that level of observational craftsman, and there’s a beauty to The King of Staten Island. Long after the credits roll, it’s just a movie that leaves you with a good feeling. It’s a feel-good movie that doesn’t stop when it’s over.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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