by: Jay Carlson
In real life Pete Davidson is a fascinating guy. Before his seventh birthday he lost his father, a firefighter, to 9/11. His father being one of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers, the single largest loss of firefighters in our country’s history. Flash forward 13 years as twenty year old Davidson becomes one of the youngest cast members ever brought on to Saturday Night Live by Lorne Michaels (Eddie Murphy was 19 and was hired when Michaels had stepped away from the show).
Anyone with an internet connection has watched as Davidson’s personal life has splashed its way across the social media landscape, from his substance abuse issues, to his mental health, to a high-profile engagement and break-up, to hook-ups with a bevy of Hollywood’s hottest. And he’s still only 26. It’s been a wild rise for Davidson.
Now we can add leading man to Davidson’s list of accomplishments, as he stars in Judd Apatow’s King of Staten Island. In Staten Island Davidson plays Scott Carlin, a slacker wannabe-tattoo artist still struggling with the childhood loss of his firefighter father, as well as his own mental health, while being pushed to grow up and become a man after his mother, played by an always wonderful Marisa Tomei, finally starts seeing someone. That someone is Ray, played by a pitch-perfect Bill Burr, who as luck would have it, is also a firefighter.
Rounding out Scott’s story are his maybe girlfriend, Kelsey, played wonderfully by Bel Powley, who he can’t seem to commit to, but he also can’t seem to stay away from either, and his sister Claire played by Apatow’s own daughter, Maude, the one person who has carried the burden of keeping Scott anchored and sane all these years.
As Scott is pushed to grow up and leave the nest, he narrowly misses landing in jail alongside his other slacker friends. This wake-up call and his lack of other options leads him to reach out to the one guy he’s spent the film pushing away, his mom’s new firefighter boyfriend. Ray still wants nothing to do with Scott, but is compelled to help by his firefighter brothers, who feel a responsibility to help the child of one of their own fallen brothers. Look for a wonderful cameo from Steve Buscemi, who himself was a firefighter in New York City in the 1980’s and returned to his old firehouse to help search for survivors on 9/11, working 12 hours days sifting through the rubble looking for people like six year-old Pete Davidson’s own father.
Davidson, who previous to The King of Staten Island, has shown flashes of something is finally given more to work with and he truly shines. Apatow takes the goofy-child persona that we’ve seen from him in nearly everything he’s done and adds an emotional depth that anchors and endears him to us in a way he never has before. Kudos to the team of Apatow, Davidson and SNL writer Dave Sirus. The final result is a step outside the comfort zone for Apatow, as Staten Island feels smaller and grittier than his usual polished comedy vehicles. Staten Island feels like the final piece of a trilogy that he began with, what I believe is his best film to date, Funny People, where Adam Sandler caricatured his own larger than life persona and fame, and Trainwreck, where Amy Schumer also played a semi-autobiographical version of herself and her relationship with her own father. In doing this, Apatow puts his stars in a comfort zone where they are grounded by the truth of their own stories while being able to still explore a fictional character and world around them. King of Staten Island plays like an indie film compared to those other two films, but the results are no different, the film still can make you laugh even as it’s making you cry.
The King of Staten Island is not perfect and it does have it’s issues, but still manages to surprise, much like it’s star.
The King of Staten Island is available now on streaming platforms.