The King of Staten Island review

Of the numerous man child finally grows up films in his catalog, The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most fully realized and complete work.

It’s semi-autobiographical in the same sense as 8 Mile. Despite a lack of experience as a dramatic actor, Eminem was able to draw from his actual life experiences to deliver a heartfelt and authentic performance.

In a similar manner, star/co-writer Pete Davidson uses his life as inspiration for a surprisingly nuanced performance that suggests he could be the rare Saturday Night Live star to find success in dramas as well as comedies.

Davidson (Set It Up) stars as Scott, a twenty something living his life like a teenager. He’s still living at home with his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei, Spider-Man: Far From Home), with no thought about moving out.

the king of staten island review - marisa tomei and pete davidson

He casually sells prescription drugs to kids alongside his fellow going nowhere buddies (Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson and Moises Arias). Maybe there’s an opportunity for more than a friends with benefit relationship with his longtime friend Kelsey (Bel Powley), but he’s afraid of ruining it.

Scott’s college bound sister, Claire (Judd’s daughter Maude Apatow), isn’t making him look any better either. Of the family, Scott has had the toughest time dealing with the death of his father, a firefighter who died in the line of duty. Davidson’s father, Scott, died responding at the World Trade Center during Sept. 11.

Scott does have some plans for his future though. He’s going to open a tattoo restaurant, which would be a terrible idea even if Scott were a fantastic tattoo artist — and he’s got work to do to just be mediocre.


No one can accuse Scott of smart decision making. His latest terrible idea brings an angry father, Ray (Bill Burr, The Mandalorian) to Margie’s doorsteps. That leads to an unexpected consequence as Ray and Margie hit it off and begin dating.

Not that Scott needed any help in being self-destructive, but these changes to the family spark a series of poor choices. Davidson strips away enough of Scott’s bravado that his raw vulnerability makes his questionable decision making tolerable.

Typically in these Peter Pan films the man child’s actions start getting annoying. Davidson is able to keep Scott’s choices understandable — to an extent — as the pain behind these decisions is obvious.

the king of staten island review - kelly, scott and harold

Davidson co-wrote the film with Apatow and Dave Sirus and it seems like the film has been a cathartic healing process for him especially in the second half when Scott starts hanging out with a fire department company. Reflecting other casting choices in the film, the department crew, led by a reserved Steve Buscemi, is very diverse.

Apatow keeps the humor low key and doesn’t force any over the top moments for the sake of movie craziness. That doesn’t mean the humor is anemic as there’s a welcome amount of genuinely funny scenes,

Tomei has always been an asset to every film she’s been a part of, but I’d argue the second act of her career starting from 2008’s The Wrestler has been even stronger. Margie’s realization that she’s allowed to move on and enjoy her life isn’t revelatory, but Tomei is so likable it’s easy to root for Margie’s journey to happiness.

the king of staten island review -pete davidson and bill burr

Tomei and Burr are the heart of the film as they give Margie and Ray’s relationship an authentic look at the challenges of a later in life romance and blending families. So far in this unusual year they’re easily on my short list of best supporting performances for 2020.

The supporting cast is across the board superb and they have enough plot development where they don’t feel like they’re on screen to be awkward or provide one-liners.

Like most Apatow films, this runs longer than needed by about 20 minutes. The difference from earlier works is the padded scenes don’t derail the momentum since it’s not one extended stretch of a 20-minute lull. King’s soundtrack is also low-key excellent headlined by two bookend songs from Kid Cudi, the rapper whose songs Davidson credits for helping him get through a point in his life when he was contemplating suicide.

the king of staten island review -bel powley and pete davidson

The King of Staten Island is about awakenings on a lot of levels and it’s that sense of new beginnings and a reason to hope again that makes this one of my favorite films of the year.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures