SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as 99¢ for the first month

Movie review: Comedian Pete Davidson’s life story is (sort of) told in ‘The King of Staten Island’

Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Margie (Marisa Tomei) and her son Scott (Pete Davidson) find a little hanging-out time.

It’s not going to catch anyone off-guard that Judd Apatow’s newest film is neither a comedy nor a drama, but is both a comedy and a drama. Though the writer-director-producer has a reputation for comedies with a raucous, potty-mouth edge (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “Knocked Up”) he’s made plenty of movies featuring this combined emotional territory before (“Funny People” and “This Is 40”).

In the case of “The King of Staten Island,” Apatow has put on all three moviemaking hats, and gotten together in the writing department with “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson and Davidson’s writer pal Dave Sirus, to tell a fictionalized yet semi-autobiographical, funny and poignant story of Davidson’s family life.

Davidson grew up on Staten Island, New York, his mom was a nurse, his firefighter dad died on the job on 9/11, and Davidson had a dream of becoming a standup comic. In the film, Davidson, playing a character named Scott Carlin, grew up on Staten Island, his mother is a nurse, his firefighter dad died on 9/11, and Scott has a dream of becoming a tattoo artist.

It should be mentioned that the fellow who plays Scott’s grandfather, and who goes on a terrific anti-college tirade that invokes the names of Bill Cosby, Ted Bundy, Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump, is played by Davidson’s real-life grandfather Stephen. But it just doesn’t matter what’s based on fact here and what isn’t, because the film works wonderfully as a mix of very funny dialogue and very moving circumstances.

Davidson can be grating and over-earnest (and, yes, funny) on “SNL,” and his character here is not all that likable in the film’s early stages. He comes across as a stoned-out, direction-less loser who is taking advantage of his single mom’s generosity by hanging around, watching horror movies with his equally stoned-out pals in mom’s basement playroom.

Scott has a hairpin trigger temper but - credit goes to Davidson’s performance - he can’t and shouldn’t be seen as a bad guy. He’s a complicated fellow, with all sorts of problems, from Attention Deficit Disorder to a dependency on antidepressants to the grief he’s never gotten over since the death of his father when he was 7. Now, at 24, he confides in his longtime friend Kelsey (Bel Powley) with whom he’s having a secret fling, “There’s something wrong with me; I’m scared of myself.”

His mom, Margie (Marissa Tomei), is also going through a rough patch. She, too, has never gotten over the loss of her husband, is overworked at the hospital, and is worried about facing an impending loneliness when her daughter Claire (Maude Apatow, Judd’s daughter) heads off to her first year at college.

There’s not a lot of heavy plotting in the film, but the central one takes shape when Scott, who practices tattooing his friends, makes a bad judgment call involving a 9-year-old kid who shows interest in getting a tattoo. This results in a visit to the Carlin home by one very angry dad, Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), who turns out to be a firefighter, is divorced and, in ensuing scenes, finds Margie to be quite attractive. And that results in what looks to be a promising relationship between Ray and Margie, but a contentious one between Ray and Scott who, from the get-go, do not like each other.

The highlights of the film match up both strong dialogue and honest acting that Apatow has his characters play out in long, one-on-one scenes, the best of them involving Margie and Ray, and Scott and Ray. The latter pair have something special going for them, partly because Davidson and Burr are actually longtime friends.

Fans of Steve Buscemi might be a tad disappointed that his part as a veteran firefighter is so small, but he, too, has some good talk time with Davidson. There’s a scene or two that could be excised (something about a drugstore robbery comes to mind), but the drama is believable, some of the comedy reaches riotous proportions, and the characters as well as the film have a lot of heart.

“The King of Staten Island” opens on various streaming platforms on June 12.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“The King of Staten Island”

Written by Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, and Dave Sirus; directed by Judd Apatow

With Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow

Rated R