The main problem I have with the Pete Davidson story is Pete Davidson. Maybe it's a generational thing?
In Judd Apatow's bloated misfire "The King of Staten Island," we're given a fictionalized life story of young and talented comic, Pete Davidson. Davidson had a role in Apatow's 2015 comedy, "Trainwreck" and impressed Bill Hader, who in turn introduced him to Saturday Night Live guru Lorne Michaels. Michaels ended up hiring Davidson on SNL, and since then he's been a somewhat odd fit. He's shown flashes of comedic brilliance when just telling jokes from behind the news desk, but you can't quite put Pete in a box.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for Davidson, his off-camera story has taken on a life of its own and has overshadowed his on-screen live. His love-life has made tabloid headlines, having dated Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale, Margaret Qualley and Kaia Gerber to name a few, and his battle with depression and addiction. One tragic fact about his life that had become public was that his dad - a firefighter - died on 9/11 as a first-responder, shortly after Pete's eighth birthday.
These tidbits - his dating life and the tragedy and aftermath surrounding his father's death - seem like areas worth exploring if you were ever going to make a movie about his life. Instead, "The King of Staten Island" takes the framework of these real-life events and waters them down. Instead of a budding stand-up comic, Davidson plays a version of himself, Scott Carlin, who has a similarly far-fetched idea to one day open up the world's first-ever tatoo-parlor-restaurant. Scott's dad was a firefighter and also died tragically, but they remove the 9/11 angle and instead have Scott's dad die in a random Staten Island building fire.
I can only imagine how raw and sensitive it would be to explore emotional area surrounding the sudden death of parent, but if you're going to get this close to it, why not dive in? The story they decidedly tell ends up feeling neutered, and is not daring enough to really get to the heart of the matter.
The movie, for example, reveals that Pete - er - Scott, has mental illness, but it isn't interesting in doing anything other than scratching the surface of this disease. Why tell someone's life story and be afraid to really examine it?
The few shining nuggets that do exist within the movie are due to the performances by Marisa Tomei, as Scott's single mother, and Scott's on-again-off-again Jersey-girl-friend, played by Bel Powley. Both of them do more with their roles than was probably on the page. Comedian Bill Burr however - and I'm a big fan of his - is a bit miscast and outside of his range in playing a firefighter love interest for Scott's mom, whose presence really initiates Scott's emotional journey.
Because the film requires a lot of the heavy-lifting by Davidson and Burr, "The King of Staten Island" really never works the way it should.
For real, are we supposed to just like Pete - er - Scott, just because? I can't speak for Davidson in real-life, but this character is just not a likable guy...he's missing a key element - call it a lack of charisma? - that would make the audience root for him, and because of that we never really do. So we're watching a movie about a character we don't care about stuck in a story that isn't really interested in shedding any new light. And because this is a Judd Apatow movie, it's of course way too long, and way too meandering to ever really be effective.
Even if you do become somewhat invested, Marisa Tomei's character makes an implausible decision late in the movie that really goes against her character and everything that was established up until then. She does it because she needs to, to push the movie forward, and not because her actions grow out of the story organically.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments in "The King of Staten Island," and existing fans of Pete Davidson may enjoy his rebellious, dark humor. But this movie isn't going to turn anyone new on to Pete Davidson. It's a long trip to the end, and when you arrive you realize you didn't really learn anything about him at all. And that's a shame, because there is something interesting about Pete, we've just yet to discover what that is.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours and 16 minutes.
Starring: Pete Davidson, Bel Powley, Bill Burr, Marisa Tomei, Moises Arias, Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson, Steve Buscemi.
Written by Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus
Directed by Judd Apatow ("Trainwreck," "This Is 40," "Funny People," "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin").
"The King of Staten Island" is available on several streaming platforms as of Friday, June 12th, 2020.
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