If you have a hard time finding Pete Davidson funny after six years on Saturday Night Live, then you will have difficult finding comedy in his two-hour semi-biographical film ‘The King of Staten Island’.
Judd Apatow’s quality of work has seen a steady decline over the years which is evident in the fact he is still being billed as the director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which was made over 15 years ago. The last decade has been uneventful for the director who hopes that the star power of Davidson can carry him to the promised land in Apatow’s first film since Trump’s election. While the goal is to give audiences an avenue to relate and understand the life of Pete Davidson, the biggest obstacle to that goal is the lead.
Prolonged adolescence, arrested development, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have become the mainstay of an entire generation of people who have grown up post 9/11 and the perfect example of that is the SNL star. Davidson, who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks has struggled with severe depression his entire life and his struggle is mirrored in his latest project produced by Amazon films.
The King of Staten Island stars Davidson playing the role of Scott, an aimless and directionless son of a New York City firefighter killed in action. Outside of wanting to be a tattoo artist, an occupation that Scott is not good at, he doesn’t have anything going for him in his life and even attempts to commit suicide via a car wreck early in the film. Scott is a burden on his sister and his mother who expects so much more from him but he remains a disappointment. That all changes when Scott’s mother finds a new man after 17 years and Scott go from disappointment to leper.
Any sympathy that Apatow and Davidson build for this character is erased when Scott lashes out at his mother in a way that only someone 10-15 years younger could get away with. Audiences experience a slow march through a redemption story of a screw up that gives them little to root for until the film enters its final act nearly two hours into the story.
Depression and loss are two of the heaviest problems that any human being can deal with, however, these are not excuses for irredeemable behavior. which causes a disconnect with the main character. The King of Staten Island is a film that works better as a drama than a comedy, Apatow tries and fails to mix the two genres to a complete narrative but you can’t get over the hump of Pete Davidson not having the chops to deliver a deadpan dry wit.
Davidson’s life story is the importance of a man’s relationship with his father. Much like in real life, Pete’s loss of his dad left a void in his life that to this date has yet to be filled and possibly never will be. Despite the character giving you every reason to despise him as a person, you can clearly see the psychological and emotional damage growing up without a positive male figure left on him. It isn’t until Bill Burr’s character comes into his life that Scott finds a sense of purpose and slowly begins a reflection period that leads to a turnaround. Family and the underlying truth of loss makes the film resonate on a human level even if it fails elsewhere.
If we hadn’t already seen the life of Pete Davidson play out in real-time, we could open our hearts to his road to redemption, but as art imitates life, this road is long, dry, and not nearly as satisfying.