‘The King of Staten Island’ Doesn’t Have It Figured Out


Pete Davidson in “The King of Staten Island.” (Photo by Mary Cybulski | Universal PIctures)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


This article contains mild spoilers for “The King of Staten Island.”

The new film “The King of Staten Island” tells the story of Scott Carlin, a twenty-four year old stoner freeloading in his mom’s basement after grappling with the traumatic loss of his father at a young age. When his younger sister goes off to college and his mother begins dating a former fire-fighting co-worker of his father’s, the self-professed screw-up deals with his own failure to launch. Starring comedian Pete Davidson with director Judd Apatow at the helm, the film calls together a studded cast of Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Moisés Arias, Maude Apatow and Steve Buscemi. 

If you’ve followed Davidson’s career, you might see through his character Scott to the veiled autobiography beneath. In an interview prior to the film’s release, Davidson described the character as “75 percent [him].” Both performer and character lost their dad at a young age — Scott Davidson, for whom Pete’s character is named after, died as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Other uncanny similarities include living with their mothers, suffering from Crohn’s disease and mental illness, and smoking too much weed.

“The King of Staten Island” was scheduled to premiere at South by Southwest, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of pushing back a theatrical release, the film was released on June 12 through video-on-demand on many different platforms. So, just like the cast and crew, I sat down to watch the film in my own home.

In his characteristically goofy demeanor, Davidson carries the show through the strangest series of events, including accidentally tattooing a nine-year-old boy in the woods which causes the boy’s father, Ray, to show up on Scott’s mother Margie’s doorstep, becoming the instigator of their romantic relationship. The at-home audience watches as this man-child stumbles through unsuccessfully being the look-out while his friends rob a pharmacy, embarrassing his mother’s boyfriend at a baseball game by criticizing his firefighter buddies and consistently being comically knocked to the ground in a series of altercations. 

The film makes up for its hollow or misguided moments with sections of heartfelt connection. Amid montages of the rapid changes in Scott’s world, there is one moment where he tries on an old suit of his father’s and, to no one but the wall in the garage, professes that he’s going to miss his sister when she goes off to school. These little gems of honesty kept me from clicking away through scenes where the story fell flat. 

In general, it’s a weird time to be watching movies, especially ones that have nothing to do with the crises of the present moment. However, there’s one scene where Scott’s experience of loss feels incredibly relevant. As Ray becomes a larger part of Margie’s life, the two make Scott walk his children Harold and Kelly to school. When they drop Harold off, Scott tells him to kiss his sister goodbye. “Now, if she dies tomorrow, you’ll remember that.” This sentiment is repeated several times throughout the film — subtle and covert, but still ringing with grief.  

In a turn that, in my opinion, should have taken up more attention in the film, Scott finds himself at the firehouse after being kicked out of his mom’s house. Much to Ray’s chagrin, the team, many of whom knew Scott’s father before he passed, puts the kid to work in exchange for letting him sleep on their couch. Through their stories, Scott’s view on his father changes from an exalted figure that he reveres to a humanized example that he begins to follow in the footsteps of. He starts to understand duty and respect, but through the lens of his own naivety. One of the dumbest jokes that made me audibly laugh was a moment where firefighters Ray and Papa, played by Buscemi, look on as Scott begrudgingly washes the fire truck and says, “Why do we have to clean this thing anyway? It’s just going to get fire on it.” 

“The King of Staten Island” straddles the challenging line between comedy and drama and falls into a trap of not doing either real justice. However, it succeeds in presenting a compelling cast of characters all confused about how to live their lives. Without giving away too much of the conclusion, I enjoyed how the loose ends of the movie weren’t tied up neatly — Scott still feuds with his sister, lies to Ray, betrays his friends and has yet to make any progress on his dream of opening a tattoo restaurant. But, in his own dry and cocky humor, you witness Scott make a genuine attempt to be vulnerable with those he loves. He doesn’t have it figured out, but neither do any of us. 

“The King of Staten Island” is available to rent now on all major streaming platforms, including Prime Video, Apple TV, Xfinity, Google Play, Vudu and Redbox. For more information, visit the official “The King of Staten Island” website.


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