Spoiler alert: it’s Pete Davidson. He’s the king of Staten Island. Supposably. You know, Pete Davidson. The young SNL cast member who told us, from experience, that you shouldn’t choose your rehab while you’re high (I believe “equine therapy” was involved), and who was briefly engaged to Ariana Grande.
Pete Davidson has obviously had his share of addictions issues. He’s suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. His mom got him through high school by bribing him with stand-up in exchange for his attendance. He smokes weed so he can perform. He smokes weed to treat his Crohn’s, a painful medical condition. He smokes weed because he likes it. And maybe he smokes weed to forget his traumatic personal connection to the most horrific day in American history: his father, a fire-fighter, died in 9/11.
The King of Staten Island, a collaboration between Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow, is a semi-autobiographical film about Davidson’s particular relationship/struggle with growing up.
“Scott” (Davidson) is a 20-something pothead who dreams of being a tattoo artist, as evidenced by some very inconsistent ink on his friends’ bodies. One of his canvasses/victims is a 9 year old boy, and you can bet that boy’s father is soon pounding on Scott’s mom’s door. Did I mention he still lives with his mom? He does. His younger sister has recently gone off to college and now his mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) is mourning her empty nest while also not actually benefiting from it because of course Scott won’t/can’t actually leave, drawing permanent stickmen on his friends’ torsos not paying particularly well/at all. But it turns out that tattooing a 9 year old boy has an upside: the boy’s angry father Ray (Bill Burr) takes Margie out on her first date in 17 years. Which, admittedly, is nicer for her than it is for Scott, who isn’t exactly keen to see his dead father replaced, isn’t a big fan Ray, and isn’t thrilled to be displaced by him.
Judd Apatow is of course the king of comedy. He’s paired up with Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Adam Sandler (Funny People) and Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) – comedians at the top of their game, or just cresting their fame, and Apatow’s gotten career-best performances out of all of them. It’s weird then that this collab with Davidson has set new watermarks for both juvenile humour and serious themes. Together they navigate sacrifice and childhood trauma but manage to season generously with firehouse frat-boy antics. Like most of Apatow’s films, it’s long for a comedy; the script is loose, breezy even, and Apatow gives his actors plenty of space. It’s low-key for the most part, but it hits on both fragility and hilarity with surprising ease. Pete Davidson may not be the most versatile of actors, but he’s good enough to play some version of himself, seemingly relaxed and comfortable, and hopefully somewhat cleansed by the process. Healing comes in all shapes and sizes and grief is a malleable, personal thing. Sometimes it even looks like an R-rated comedy.
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