REVIEW: Despite some good moments, ‘King of Staten Island’ can test patience

The King of Staten Island isn’t as cool of a title as The King of New York, but few people can be as cool as Christopher Walken.

While this 2020 movie has that title, main character Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is certainly no king. In this Judd Apatow-directed feature, Scott is a 24-year-old who lives with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and isn’t a student attending college or working any job.

What Scott does instead is either get high with his friends, or work as an amateur tattoo artist. Much of this behavior is pinned to the death of Scott’s father, who was a firefighter who died in the line of duty. His way of life is challenged, though, when his sister Claire (Maude Apatow) moves to college and his mother begins a relationship with another person working in New York City’s Fire Department, Ray (Bill Burr).

Some films are just meant to be long. There are epic pictures that need to be well over two hours. Other movies, though, that are a bit more intimate or studies a character, are better with a shorter runtime. “King of Staten Island” should have been in the latter category.

This movie didn’t need to be two hours, let alone two hours and 16 minutes. The movie just seems to meander around, especially in the second act, with little structure. Additionally, there’s also an entire subplot involving a robbery that could have cut without having changed the main character’s arc all that much.

It’s a rather familiar character arc, too, as Apatow again features a protagonist who has to ‘grow-up’ by the time the credits roll. It’s already somewhat of a tired formula, and Apatow stretches it too far, putting a strain on the film as a whole.

What really causes the movie to falter, though, is the fact that Scott is just such an unlikable, and to an extent, uninteresting character. Cynical characters who don’t immediately come off as nice isn’t a bad thing necessarily, and can work to a movie’s advantage at times.

Film Review - The King of Staten Island
Courtesy Apatow Productions, Perfect World Pictures and Universal Pictures.

The movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” from 2013 featured such a character, portrayed by Oscar Isaac. However, it wasn’t just that he was rough around the edges. In that film, Llewyn is egotistical, but exceptionally passionate about music as an art form, on top of the fact that he recently lost his friend to suicide.

It is true that Scott is still dealing with grief from the loss of his father, but the portrayal isn’t executed in a way to evoke all that much sympathy from an audience. There are several times when Scott notes his own grief and in some ways, seeks sympathy, but the character is rarely shown trying to show empathy for others.

Apatow missed a step here in not really digging deeper into Scott’s mental health. It’s never shown that he has, or is, going to therapy, and he doesn’t appear to be on medication either. The film could have done something more with this angle, since Scott clearly is still struggling with mental health. This has even been pulled off in the dramatic comedy genre before in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

That’s not to say Scott’s character is without his good moments. In some key scenes, the way his character interacts with others or evolves can engage a viewer. It’s also a fact that Davidson is good in the lead role.

He has some strong moments on screen and certainly proves his comedic ability, too. I just wish the script allowed Davidson’s character to do more than mostly being overly harsh in his cynicism.

The supporting cast does earn the movie some more points. Tomei is really good as Scott’s mother, Maude Apatow is strong in a smaller role and Burr often ends up stealing the show.

This film has its moments, and it actually ends pretty strong. It’s far too long, though, and the main character is often shown to be unlikable without more insight to allow better understanding. This character study needed to be reigned in. 2.5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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