REVIEW: ‘The King of Staten Island’ Is An Admirable and Flawed Drama With Generic Performances

The King of Staten Island is a comedic drama from co-writer and director Judd Apatow. Starring and co-written by SNL cast member and stand-up comedian Pete Davidson. 

Pete plays Scott, a Staten Island guy approaching his mid-20s without much of a drive to his life or career moving in any sort of substantial direction. He seemingly is self-medicating himself after the loss of his firefighter father, pulling directly from Pete’s own life. Scott is forced to grow-up once his sister leaves for college and his mother finally starts dating again, oddly enough, another local firefighter played by fellow stand-up comedian Bill Burr. 

Pete’s performance is slightly pedestrian which isn’t shocking given his limited drama experience and the first act is built-up to loath his douche-bag slacker character as Scott keeps making dumb choice after another. The problem is that Scott is extremely unlikable or charismatic within the first act, as his friends and family simply suffer him without many examples of why they are outside of their obligations.  

Not enough character-building for Scott if I had to pinpoint the issue there. I’m not sure if giving out bad tattoos is exactly enough of a personality trait to get people rooting for someone. However, by the second act, Scott actually starts getting a little more interesting when he’s pulled out of his comfort zone, a running theme with the other Apatow films. 

However, the slacker trope is getting a little overused. 

Davidson does bring some heart and humor along with some emotional moments but still wasn’t really giving enough reason to root for Scott or become invested in his journey. 

There is an annoying meta point in the film where a co-worker dismisses Scott’s odd behavior in a restaurant is due to “nepotism” and calls it a disease. That’s pretty bold of Mr. Apatow considering his daughter Maude Apatow takes a prominent role in the film (having roles in four other of Judd’s films) playing Scott’s sister Claire, who is heading to college and leaving the nest. 

Maude’s acting here is average and it would be difficult to say any of her scenes were memorable or standout in my mind. The role ended up feeling more like wallpaper which is likely due to the minimal energy and skill brought to it. 

I don’t think the part would have been as distracting if it had been played by someone else and not given as much screentime as she had. Considering the talent secured in other supporting parts, I find it hard to believe that another actress couldn’t have handled the sister role and added a little more life to the character. Judd didn’t do Maude any favors putting her up against actresses like Marisa Tomei and Bel Powley. End of the day, Judd is the director and producer, casting the film as he likes but it’s hard to take his nepotism joke seriously when he’s been guilty of it throughout his career. 

Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr made a cute couple, but I’m not sure it was a good idea to slap a huge red mustache on Bill making him look like Yosemite Sam or the attempt to give Marisa some weird mullet. I’m curious how much of Bill’s lines as Ray were cribbed from his podcast rants as they seemed more like moments from his real personality than an actual character he was trying to create. That said, they were highlights of the film.

Bel Powley as Scott’s friend/secret girlfriend Kelsey was another highlight of the film. I was a little shocked she didn’t get more things to do in the film and was heavily underutilized. 

The rest of the supporting cast did feel like a handful of people won a contest to be in the film and didn’t bring much to the scenes they appeared in. I did like the brief amount of Steve Buscemi scenes in the film, given he was once a firefighter in real life, he didn’t feel out of place and I would have liked to have more of him as well. 

We also don’t really see Scott decide what he’s going to do with his life which is essentially the question posed by multiple people throughout the entire film, leaving the ending a little dissatisfying and anti-climatic. 

It’s odd that I keep saying I wanted to see more of certain actors because there is a lot of that could have been cut out. The running time of over 2 hours is also another gripe I tend to have with the Apatow films. The man is a little too precious with his scenes and adds an extra 30 minutes to a runtime that when it doesn’t need it. 

I was shocked to learn that the film’s cinematographer Robert Elswit was behind films such as There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler, and Inherent Vice, excitingly vibrant movies. Staten Island is so muted and desaturated to the point the movie looks like unappealing grey mush. 

I think it’s admirable to see Judd attempt a more dramatic feature film rather than focusing mainly on his normal ribaldry. The King of Staten Island isn’t his best film but it’s showing audiences he’s finally maturing as a director and heading in the right direction for the most part.  

6.5/10

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