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08 Jun 2020

Gritty Laughs: Pete Davidson Is Lifted Up by an Amazing Cast in 'The King of Staten Island'

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Bel Powley and Pete Davidson in The King of Staten Island. Bel Powley and Pete Davidson in The King of Staten Island.

Pete Davidson—who barely registered on Saturday Night Live during the recently concluded season due to prior commitments and a resulting lack of screen time—comes roaring back with The King of Staten Island, another quality comedy from director and co-writer Judd Apatow.

Davidson plays Scott Carlin, a thinly veiled version of himself. The film depicts a scenario of Davidson’s life in which he doesn’t get his big break on SNL and is, instead, an aspiring (and not very good) tattoo artist. As happened with Davidson, Scott’s firefighter father died on duty, and he lives with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and little sister, Claire (Maude Apatow).

Davidson doesn’t have to stretch too much to deliver a convincing performance as a wisecracking, self-esteem-challenged, neurotic guy with a severe case of Crohn’s disease (from which he suffers in real life). He, in fact, nails the part, thanks to deft comic timing and solid dramatic chops. He holds his own against veterans like Tomei and Steve Buscemi, who plays a boss at the local firehouse. Davidson might not match them in every scene, but, hey, he’s a rookie, and he’s pretty damn good.

The plot involves Scott hanging out with a motley crew of friends and contending with his mother’s new boyfriend, Ray Bishop, played by Bill Burr in a hilarious performance that takes Burr’s acting career to the next level. Ray has a Monopoly Man mustache and a suspiciously sunny personality, and Scott develops trust issues with him—leading to turmoil in the household and comedically rich strife.

With this 136-minute long film, Apatow uses a grittier, messier visual approach, and it pays off, suiting the unpredictability of its central character and his scrappy Staten Island locale. The movie feels different from past Apatow ventures—so different that I didn’t even realize I was watching his daughter Maude (who is excellent, by the way) until the movie was over.

Davidson’s performance is also bolstered by a supreme supporting cast that includes Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) as the love interest in a very unconventional love story. While the movie is good, it wouldn’t be nearly as good if it weren’t for the presence of Burr, Buscemi and Tomei, who provide the movie with a solid dramatic and comedic base.

Will Davidson one day become a legitimate movie star? Maybe. He has The Suicide Squad, slated for release next year, on his slate, and he’s going to voice Marmaduke in an animated film.

The King of Staten Island will be available via streaming services on Friday, June 12.

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