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"THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND"
(2020) (Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: An aimless young man finds his unemployed, live-at-home life disrupted when his long-widowed mom begins dating a firefighter.
PLOT:

Scott Carlin (PETE DAVIDSON) is a 24-year-old man who still lives at home with his long-widowed mother, Marge (MARISA TOMEI), and teenage sister, Claire (MAUDE APATOW), who's about to head off to college. Still traumatized by the death of his firefighter father seventeen years ago, Scott doesn't have a job -- but is hoping to land an apprenticeship at a local tattoo parlor -- and spends most of his time getting high with his friends -- Oscar (RICKY VELEZ), Richie (LOU WILSON), and Igor (MOISES ARIAS) -- when not sleeping with but not committing to his "friend with benefits" Kelsey (BEL BOWLEY).

One day, while hanging with his friends, nine-year-old Harold (LUKE DAVID BLUMM) shows up, says he wants a tattoo, and then screams in pain and runs away when Scott starts on his arm. That draws his divorced father, Ray Bishop (BILL BURR), to Marge's house in anger, but that initially antagonistic meeting quickly segues into romance, much to Scott's shock and disgust. And that's not only due to the hostile way they met, but also the fact that Ray is a firefighter at the local firehouse commanded by Papa (STEVE BUSCEMI).

Things go from bad to worse for Scott when Ray gets him to escort Harold and his younger sister, Kelly (ALEXIS RAE FORLENZA), back and forth to their separate schools each day, something that initially worries Ray's ex, Gina (PAMELA ADLON), but since both she and Scott hate Ray, she figures the young man can't be that bad. With Ray and Marge's romance deepening, and despite his new responsibilities, Scott sets out to ruin the relationship leading to unexpected developments and the chance for him to grow as a man.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

There's nothing like losing a parent to rattle one's world and make one address their mortality. For me, I was 43-years-old and my dad's death was expected after a year-plus battle with lung cancer. It was certainly sad, but being at that age and point in my life -- not to mention obviously no longer living at home -- it didn't rattle my world and affect my psyche as it might have had it occurred thirty to forty years earlier.

That said, I have friends who lost their fathers -- before I knew any of them -- when they were kids and while they don't talk much about such matters, I can certainly see how that would affect them in their formative years.

"Saturday Night Live" cast member Pete Davidson would know something about that. After all, he lost his firefighter dad -- when he was just 7 -- in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack on New York, reportedly last seen running up the steps of the Marriott World Trade Center before that building collapsed.

Somehow I never knew about that until learning of while researching the background of "The King of Staten Island," a dramedy that Davidson co-wrote with Dave Sirus and director Judd Apatow. In the film, the main character (played by Davidson) likewise lost his father when Scott was just 7, albeit not during 9/11 but just a random fire. Much like the real-life Davidson -- who I've never met and have only watched, read about and served as an armchair psychiatrist but can see he's a troubled soul -- that event psychologically messed up the story's protagonist.

But in this world, and to avoid becoming something akin to a biopic, that character hasn't gone on to do stand-up comedy, be discovered, get cast on a famous late-night TV skit show or -- as is happening right now -- become the lead actor in a major film.

Instead, he's an aimless slacker who still lives at home with his long-widowed mom, Marge (Marisa Tomei), and his younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), who's heading off for college and is worried about her big brother, where his head's at, and what he might possibly do to himself while she's gone.

While he fully comprehends his situation, he hasn't figured out how or even if he wants out of that, what with enjoying the ease of living at home, getting high with his friends (played by Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson, and Moisés Arias), and having sex with his longtime friend, Kelsey (Bel Powley), without wanting to fully commit to a regular romantic relationship.

His life gets complicated, however, when his attempts to give 9-year-old Harold (Luke David Blumm) a tattoo -- with the kid's permission -- go awry, thus drawing the wrath of that boy's father, Ray (Bill Burr), something he transfers in the heat of the moment toward Marge. But he quickly apologizes for that and despite that rough introduction, the two become a romantic item, much to Scott's shock and dismay.

Most of that stems not from having the man simply yell at him, but instead the fact that like his late father this man's also a firefighter. And having already watched his mom deal with such a vocationally related loss, he doesn't want to see it happen again.

While that might sound fairly heavy, Apatow -- known for the likes of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Trainwreck" -- throws in enough laughs to keep things from being downright depressing or grating, but manages to keep the serious drama out in front of everything.

The result is a satisfying offering that might have a mostly predictable character and story arc but is nonetheless engaging, entertaining, and occasionally even emotionally touching, all centered around Davidson's terrific performance. Granted, he's pretty much just playing himself -- or at least the public persona we all know -- but the acting is otherwise quite good.

While only the future will prove whether Davidson can act in other parts and if filming this movie might prove cathartic in releasing some of his early life loss demons, I enjoyed "The King of Staten Island" from start to finish. It rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 5, 2020 / Posted June 12, 2020


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