Pete Davidson (almost) grows up in Judd Apatow's comedic ramble King of Staten Island: Review
Is it ever too late to be coming of age? Not in the extended cinematic universe of Judd Apatow, where failure to launch is a lifestyle, and adolescence less a defined period of time than a sort of perennial weed-scented Neverland.
That’s where The King of Staten Island finds Scott (Pete Davidson), a heavy-lidded Lost Boy still far adrift and hardly paddling at 24. He has vague dreams of becoming a tattoo artist one day, but seems content in the meantime to play video games in the basement with his equally delinquent friends, have occasional sex with a girl he can’t commit to (The Morning Show’s Bel Powley), and get away with doing the least his overworked mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and college-bound sister (Maude Apatow) will allow.
There is at least a nominal reason for Scott's arrested development: More than 15 years ago, his firefighter dad died on the job; if life, he figures, is all instability and random chance, why even try? But when Margie finally falls for someone new (Bill Burr) his comfortably numb M.O. begins to crumble.
The script, which Davidson co-wrote, is rooted in his own childhood loss; his father, too, was a fireman, killed on 9/11. In its best moments the movie resonates with those realities, though it also comes packaged, like so many Apatow films, in a kind of incurable ramble — some two-plus hours dotted with pleasingly random cameos (Pamela Adlon, Steve Buscemi) and odd tonal shifts.
It's a lot to hang on the erstwhile Saturday Night Live star, whose presence on that show has often felt less like that of a main player than a gonzo mascot for its least comfortable comedy. He has a gift though, for choosing roles — like this and last year's similarly themed Big Time Adolescence — that bring actual layers and even real pathos to his eternal dirtbag-bro persona.
That hardly makes him a hero in King, or even an easy object of sympathy; the one job that Scott seems willing to put real work into is alienating nearly everyone who cares about him, or just comes near his orbit. And there's no doubt that King is lumpy: Follow if you can the connecting threads between a serious robbery subplot, a Hulk-glove fight club, and a full-throated Wallflowers sing-along, or fail trying. But it's also frequently winning, and oddly sweet, too; a drastically unhurried dramedy with room to grow. B