The King of Staten Island is one of the best and most authentic films of 2020. While some might attribute this to the narrative being 75% based on Pete Davidson’s own life but that’s not why. Judd Apatow’s latest release perfectly captures the devastating and crippling effects that suddenly losing a parent has on a family. No one is immune to the impact of this life-changing event. Davidson lost his father during the attacks on September 11th. My dad died during what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure. The King of Staten Island reflects the awkwardness, numbness, and the prolonged healing a family undergoes. Often the process is neverending. No one ever gets over it, and we are forced to navigate a new normal.
The King of Staten Island is loosely auto-biographical based on Davidson’s own experiences. In the film, he plays Scott, who lives with his mother (played by Marissa Tomei) and his sister Claire (played by Maude Apatow). Margie (Tomei) lost her husband (who happens to be a firefighter) tragically when a roof collapsed on him. Over the years, Scott retreated into his world of drugs and partying. It’s a safe and consistent lifestyle he’s into because nothing ever changes. In many ways, Davidson’s character is in quicksand, which is a feeling that is way too familiar from that period after my dad died. Claire seemingly has stepped up and provided some companionship over the last seventeen years since her father died. This felt all too true because my sister did the same thing for my mother. The King of Staten Island perfectly reflects how families attempt to cope after the unthinkable happens.
Writer/director Judd Apatow, Dave Sirius, and Davidson all deserve praise for how the script was crafted. What stood out was how deftly they weaved humor and heart, which offset the more tragic moments of the film. One of my favorite sequences was how unsure Margie was about going back out into the dating scene. Tomei had just the right inflection in her delivery to reflect the trepidation her character felt. Going back into the dating pool has to be scary, regardless. I loved how cringe-worthy the scene of her flirting with Ray (Bill Burr) was. He’s interested in her and has no idea how to communicate it, and complicating matters is how rusty she is at all of this.
Apatow, Sirius, and Davidson wrote some great explosive moments in the film as well. Scott is having a tough time dealing with his mom dating Ray and lets his mother have it the most irrational manner. Margie wants to attempt to move forward, and Davidson’s character views it as a betrayal. When his outburst doesn’t work, he tries to sabotage her relationship with Ray by getting dirt from his ex-wife. Nothing he tries works and only makes things worse. Scott was angry with life. It took a long time for my anger to subside until all that’s left was the pain.
Davidson’s performance in the film was heartfelt and, at times, heartbreaking. He manages to navigate the most emotionally draining moments with the same ease he would delivering a hilarious one-liner. It was amazing to watch. Davidson gives an award-worthy performance. Tomei and Burr are equally dynamite in the film. This is the best film Judd Apatow has ever written/directed.
In a year with delays and cancelations, The King of Staten Island is a refreshing surprise. Most pundits didn’t have this film on their radar in January, but expect Davidson’s film to stick around well into award season.