Saturday, 1 August 2020

The King Of Staten Island (2020) - Movie Review

Judd Apatow, one of the most influential figures in modern American comedy, has returned to screens with a new writing/directing effort. After his last feature with Trainwreck, which both launched and remains the sole high point of Amy Schumer’s cinematic career, I can’t say I knew what to expect outside of the traditional Apatow formula: Showing immature adults at a point where they need to grow the fuck up. But even with that in mind, I was not expecting to walk away from his latest and being this… moved.

It still carries the same improv looseness of Apatow's past work, but as far as tapping into genuine pathos, this is almost alarming in how solid it is. Essentially an alternate universe take on star/co-writer Pete Davidson’s own life (or, in less fantastical terms, how he would have turned out if he didn’t become a comedian), Pete is electric in the lead role. A Millennial stoner with all the daddy issues and arrested development that implies, the adult coming-of-age story here takes the form of him needing to come to terms with his father’s death on the job as a firefighter, something he pulls off so breezily that I find myself wondering just how much of his own life is being dramatized here.

The psych profile of the character is easily one of the most complex I’ve seen all year, primarily because it’s largely couched in actual psychology. Building off of Davidson’s own history with depression, ADD and borderline personality disorder (the latter of which is shown with the kind of deft touch that is criminally absent from a lot of mainstream depictions), he makes for the kind of character that is clearly in need of some growth, but who you genuinely want to see achieve that growth. To that end, the way his relationship (or lack thereof) with his dad plays into his interactions with basically everyone on-screen is quite impactful, aided by how well it deals with his hero worship for his father.

But even though Davidson could easily carry the entire production on his own shoulders (and to a degree, he manages exactly that), he only gets amplified by the supporting cast around him. Marisa Tomei as his mother anchors a lot of the parental issues (see also: attachment issues) that inform Davidson’s Scott, but it’s Bill Burr as her boyfriend who almost steals the show from even him. This is Ray Romano in The Big Sick levels of revelatory performance, playing off of Davidson as a begrudging surrogate father figure, in a way that lets a lot of genuine humanity ooze out of the frame, and yet somehow doesn’t betray his quite fiery reputation in the world of stand-up. Heck of a feat to show a softer side to the guy who took down an entire city in less than 15 minutes.

While I could definitely gripe about how stretched-out this whole thing is (it’s at least thirty minutes longer than it really needs to be) and there’s an unfortunate shagginess to the pacing that can cut into some of the bigger moments… that all feels like small potatoes compared to what it gets right. Aside from still pulling in the laughs where needed, and the drama even more so, it shows Davidson as a dude with some serious talent under his belt and his character as one of the more well-rounded coming-of-age protagonists of the last handful of years. Bonus points for how it treats the topic of heroism, which in today’s market feels more and more like a failed social experiment, by highlighting both the truly heroic qualities of those like the fire brigade, as well as the fallible but honest humanity within them and everyone else.

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