I wasn’t a fan of Pete Davidson’s when he first arrived on the scene. I kinda hated his face and thought his tattoos looked like they were ripped from a 13-year-old girl’s Trapper Keeper illustrations. Maybe it was the fact that he was dating Kate Beckinsale, which hurt my chances with her? (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) I didn’t care about Ariana Grande because her name sounds like a beverage from Starbucks. I don’t often agree with Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw, but I certainly respect his service as a Navy SEAL and didn’t think much of Davidson ripping on a wound he sustained in combat during “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live.” (That said, Davidson saying Crenshaw looked like, “a hitman in a porno movie,” was kinda funny, the insult was fairly benign and he did ultimately apologize directly to him on “SNL” for the crack.)
Somewhere along the line, my tune changed. I watched and enjoyed Davidson’s Hulu movie “Big Time Adolescence,” and dug him in it. He did a series of rap videos during “SNL at Home” – my favorites were “Stuck in the House” with Adam Sandler and “Danny Trejo” – which further endeared him to me. Knowing more about Davidson personally – his father, Scott, dying as a first responder firefighter in the World Trade Center on 9/11 when Pete was only seven; his struggles with depression, drugs and Crohn’s disease – has made me actively root for the guy. I actually kinda dig his goofy mug and the cornucopia of tattoos now … dude’s like a fungus – he’s grown on me.
This brings us to director Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island,” now available on VOD. It’s a semi-autobiographical star vehicle for Davidson, which he co-wrote with Apatow and former “SNL” staffer Dave Sirus. Davidson plays Scott, a 24-year-old ne’er-do-well who still lives with his put-upon nurse of a mother, Margie (Marissa Tomei). Scott’s fireman Dad, Stan, died when he was seven in a hotel fire, which retains the emotional honesty of Davidson’s real life without preying upon manipulative 9/11 sentimentality on screen.
Scott spends his days doing and selling drugs with his buddies Oscar, Richie and Igor (Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson and Moises Arias, respectively). He’s a burgeoning tattoo artist with aspirations of opening a tattoo parlor/restaurant called “Ruby Tat-Tuesdays.” Scott’s also sleeping with his childhood friend, Kelsey (Bel Powley). He thinks they’re just hooking up; she thinks it’s more than that.
Scott’s life is thrown into upheaval when his younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), moves out of the house to attend college and Margie begins dating Ray (comedian Bill Burr), another firefighter. Scott isn’t feeling Mom’s new suitor or his profession. He thinks it’s weird that she’s dating another fireman, she’s replacing his father and that firemen are selfish for attempting to have families or personal lives due to the inherent risk of their career. Margie and Ray have expectations for Scott if he’s going to stay in her home – he gets a job as a busboy at an Italian restaurant and must walk Ray’s children from a previous relationship (Luke David Blumm, Alexis Rae Forlenza) to school. Scott makes a connection with these kids and with the other guys at Ray’s firehouse (personified by former New York City firefighter-turned-beloved character actor Steve Buscemi, who actually assisted the FDNY after 9/11). Personal growth is within Scott’s grasp if he can simply get out of his own way.
Davidson capably headlines the picture. His Scott can be maddening at times, but he’s also sympathetic and funny. I wanted him to succeed in spite of himself. Tomei is a pro and could do this sort of role in her sleep – she’s reliably good – I just wish she had more to do. I haven’t seen Burr act much outside of supporting roles on “Breaking Bad” and “The Mandalorian,” but he’s very capable and lends the proceedings a great deal of heart. The stealth scene stealer is Velez (Davidson’s real-life best friend), who I was unfamiliar with despite him having been on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” This dude’s line readings left me in stitches. Apparently, Apatow’s such a fan he’s now producing Velez’s hour-long HBO stand-up special.
I’m a BIG Apatow backer going all the way back to his work on “The Ben Stiller Show,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Freaks and Geeks.” I think “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is one of the funniest movies of not only the aughts but of all-time. “Knocked Up” is great. “Funny People” is vastly underrated. “Trainwreck” is really good. His only “miss” is “This Is 40,” and even that’s like a 3.5 out of 5 star movie for me. The dude’s documentaries are also aces – especially “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.” “The King of Staten Island” is middle-to-lesser tier Apatow and brings into crystal clarity the common complaint that his pictures are too long. At 137 minutes this thing’s flabby as fuck. A subplot about Scott’s buddies robbing a pharmacy for its OxyContin could be easily and entirely excised with very little lost. There’s absolutely no reason for “The King of Staten Island” to be longer than two hours. Apatow needs a strong editorial hand as badly as Davidson needs a therapist. Flaws and all, the flick’s inherently likable … much like its star. I do sincerely hope the process was therapeutic for him.