‘The King Of Staten Island’ review: Pete Davidson bares his soul in a raw comedy inspired by childhood loss

Judd Apatow teams up with the SNL star to turn real-life trauma into cinematic gold

Pete Davidson has never shied away from sharing personal details in his comedy routines. He goes one further on The King Of Staten Island, which he co-wrote with Judd Apatow and Dave Sirus, crafting an alternate reality story out of his roots. What would have happened to him had he not found comedy to help him through life, it asks.

Like Davidson, Scott Carlin is still living with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) in their Staten Island home. He’s 24 and floundering, a position made all the more obvious when his little sister Claire (Maude Apatow) flees the island for uni. He’s set on becoming a tattoo artist and opening the world’s first tattoo restaurant (“Ruby Tattoosdays”, as he plans to call it), but even his best friends are getting weary of him practising his inking on them – Richie (Lou Wilson) is particularly unimpressed with the portrait of Obama permanently etched into his arm, where the former president looks like he’s decaying.

Scott’s struggles stem from the death of his firefighter father, who – like Davidson’s own dad – died when he was seven years old. When his friends crack jokes about his passing, Scott pretends to laugh along, but he’s clearly not entirely behind them. Later, his mum returns to the dating scene for the first time in 17 years. But when Scott learns his mother’s new man is also a fireman (Ray, played by Bill Burr), he goes from cheekily telling her he hopes she “gets banged out real good” to throwing a teenager-sized tantrum. “She can’t marry the first man she’s been with since dad,” he tells Claire later when trying to persuade her to help him split them up. “She’s gotta peruse some dick.”

Steve Buscemi
Steve Buscemi makes a cameo as firefighter Papa in ‘The King Of Staten Island’. Credit: Universal

Eventually, though, as Margie gets fed up with her son’s childish behaviour, Scott finds himself with nowhere to turn but Ray’s fire station. It’s there, surrounded by those in the same profession as his dad (and some who used to work with him, like Steve Buscemi’s Papa), that he finally begins to come to terms with the job they do and make peace with his dad’s premature death.

At two-and-a-quarter hours long, The King Of Staten Island could do with a little trim – some sections, like the family visit to Claire’s college, drag a little – but, for the most part, it’s a heartwarming, hilarious watch. That the subject matter is so close to Davidson’s life makes it all the more affecting – when he joins Ray and his colleagues at a Staten Island Yankees game only to rant about the selfishness of firefighters having children, you can’t help but feel the rawness and real pain behind his words.

Davidson has quietly been proving that he’s a great actor for some time now, with roles in quirky comedies like Big Time Adolescence and Set It Up. The King Of Staten Island is the most concrete evidence of his talent yet, making you laugh with him (and at him) as he haplessly flails his way out of arrested development and towards something resembling real adulthood. Whether his next steps keep up the semi-autobiographical approach or not, this movie makes the prospect of yet more movies from Davidson (he’s already signed up for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad) even more tantalising.

Details

  • Director: Judd Apatow
  • Starring: Pete Davidson, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez
  • Released: June 12 (Digital)
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