Review by Sean Boelman
Although it was initially going to have a robust festival run prior to its summer theatrical release, Judd Apatow’s newest dramedy The King of Staten Island is instead making its way to audiences in the comfort of their own homes, and that may be for the best. Those who are already fans of Apatow and star Pete Davidson may enjoy the film, but most audiences will see it as a missed opportunity.
Partly inspired by Davidson’s own life, the movie follows a twenty-something slacker still living with his mother as he is forced to grow up after finding himself with more responsibilities. And while the personal touch helps a bit, the film does little to differentiate itself from the slew of slacker comedies (a genre with which both Apatow and Davidson are already familiar).
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that it is simply too long. A common complaint for Apatow’s work is that it is overly bloated, and that has never been more the case than it is here. The first hour is very dull, the multiple scenes of Davidson’s character smoking and screwing around with his buds blending together. When the real conflict comes in around the middle of the movie, it becomes somewhat compelling but will have lost most viewers’ interest by then.
The protagonist does have a fully-developed arc, but it is so predictable and conventional that it has little effect. There’s obviously some pity, especially if one is familiar with Davidson’s past and what he has gone through, but the script deals in well-worn tropes to an extent that it doesn’t have the emotional effect it needs to flourish.
In the final act of the film, audiences will get a glimpse at what it should have been: a reflective portrait of a person trying to deal with living in the shadow of a legacy. However, it takes a long time to get there, and the romantic comedy elements that compose a majority of the first act are left underbaked.
Davidson can be a funny character actor, but unfortunately, this shows that he wasn’t quite ready to carry a film on his own. When he has someone hilarious to bounce off of, like Bill Burr (the absolute highlight of the cast), he’s pretty charming. But when he’s alone, it’s hard to buy what he’s selling. That said, with some tuning of his dramatic range, he could be a legitimate star.
Apatow has always been a relatively safe director behind the camera, focusing more on the actors and dialogue than visual storytelling. Yet since these elements are weak here, the movie falls apart. There’s no sense of momentum to be found, leaving the story to wander aimlessly. The saving grace is the soundtrack, which is pretty inspired and leads to some of the funniest and most memorable scenes.
Despite valiant efforts from Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson, The King of Staten Island just doesn’t work as well as they had hoped. Davidson’s fanbase will probably connect with this, and others will find it to be unnecessarily protracted.
The King of Staten Island hits VOD on June 12.