thu 06/08/2020

The King of Staten Island review - Apatow's best work in a decade | reviews, news & interviews

The King of Staten Island review - Apatow's best work in a decade

The King of Staten Island review - Apatow's best work in a decade

Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson are a winning combination

The master of crowd-pleasing comedy, Judd Apatow, returns with another on-brand tale of arrested development with The King of Staten Island. While it's near his signature anarchic charm, this comedy-drama shows that even a veteran director/writer/producer like Apatow has room for growth. 

Perhaps Apatow's development is down to his collaboration with 26-year-old SNL comedian and Staten Island native Pete Davidson, who combines his writing and acting talents to explore how he came to terms with losing his firefighter father during 9/11

Set in the working-class world of Staten Island, Davidson plays Scott, a weed-puffing waster with dreams of opening a ‘Tattoo Restaurant’. He’s not willing to fully commit to the dream, just as he’s unwilling to fully commit to a relationship with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley). What little structure there is in Scott’s life vanishes when his younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), heads to colleges, leaving him with his widowed mum, Margie (Marisa Tomei). She's looking to move on with her life – something Scott, who still hero worships his late father, is unable to do. Pete Davidson and Maud Apatow in new Apatow comedyScott is emotionally numb, living a life devoid of consequence or responsibility. It's a lifestyle that leads to a lot of poor decision making, including choosing to tattoo a young boy - an act that leads to Scott and his mum meeting the father of the child, firefighter Ray (Bill Bur, who offers a very fine performance). 

While Apatow has previously explored some tricky material (alcoholism, drug abuse), he usually gives it a light touch. Here, he’s willing to harden the edges, sacrificing laughs for dramatic impact. It’s not devoid of problems. The function of female characters is, for the most part, to fix men, and the structure of a nuclear family is what saves the day. 

There’s almost documentary look and feel to the drama, as opposed the slicker looks in other Apatow comedies. This down to the great work of cinematographer Robert Elswit, who was behind There Will Be Blood and Nightcrawler

Above all, the greatest success of the film is Davidson’s performance. With sallow cheeks, and a gaunt expression, Davidson perfectly balances emotional sensitivity with great comic timing. He’s a fine leading man, with the overgrown-kid appeal of Seth Rogan, the angst of Adam Sandler, and the charm of Paul Rudd. It’s not hard to imagine that, like Will Ferrell, Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan (all of whom owe their careers to Apatow), Davidson will soon enter the ranks of America's most-beloved, popular comic actors.

Yes, there are clichés and a few problems, but there’s an emotional richness and psychological depth here that avoids the usual sentimentality. It makes The King of Staten Island Apatow’s best film in over a decade. 

@JosephDAWalsh

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