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  • Writer's pictureKaveh Jalinous

The King of Staten Island (2020): Film Review

It's easy to dismiss The King of Staten Island as a movie unlike any other that veteran comedy director Judd Apatow has made, because sometime it truly feels that way. Through Pete Davidson's performance, who the film's story is based off of, this feels especially evident, and the film itself feels strongest when it explores the protagonist's complex emotions. But at the same time, this feels like the same Judd Apatow that audiences are used to - too many genres trying to be mashed into a film that runs way longer than it needs to be, an almost tiring mix of dramatic and comedic moments, and an ultimate product that feels underdeveloped. Sure the film has its moments, but they seem to get drowned out by the amount of plot-holes and inconsistencies that bog this movie down more often than not. And it's a shame that this is the case, because through certain aspects of the script and certain scenes in the movie, you can truly tell that a lot of heart was put into making this as emotional and heartwarming as it could possibly be. And unfortunately, the final product doesn't showcase that. The film tells the story of Scott Carlin, a character partly based on Pete Davidson himself, as the twenty four year old "burnout" learns to navigate his life and the world around him - specifically in dealing with the emotions, grief, and trauma from his father's untimely death in a fire-fighting accident, his confounding sense of not knowing what to do in life, and trying to get along with his mother's new boyfriend, who also happens to be a fire-fighter and a person that Scott doesn't get along with, in any sense of the idea. These three plots are already a lot for viewers to handle, because with them comes a different sense of Davidson's character, and the film itself - with each switch of the plot (and trust me, there are a lot of shifts), there is such an obvious tonal shift, and the film essentially from the get-go becomes a juggling act between comedy, drama, and a mishmash of both that really doesn't work. Personally, I found the greatest problem with The King of Staten Island to be one simple but important issue: there is just so much movie here. More movie than there needs to be in all honestly. Apatow hasn't made a movie under two hours ever in his career, and while that is somewhat impressive in an odd sort of way, it is also insane to think about (let's be real, 2015's Trainwreck did not need to be 129 minutes long). While this film in particular makes more sense having an elongated runtime, when watching the film, it is still hard to understand why this film is so long. Yes, there are a lot of plots, but there doesn't really need to be. With each change of setting and storyline that the movie goes through, it feels like the film is somehow resetting itself, redefining the characters in real time to give the viewer a different impression of the character they have been watching the entire time.  It's important to understand that this film isn't bad, and there are a lot of things that work. I won't say I'm the biggest Pete Davidson fan, and while I really enjoyed Hulu's Big Time Adolescence earlier this year, I really did not find his stand-up funny in the slightest. Regardless, his performance in this film is great, and the fact that he's playing this alternate version of himself in a script that he co-penned really gives him a certain sense of gravitas that no other actor could have pulled off as effectively in the role. On top of that, the film is charming at certain moments, and is filled with a lot of jokes that do land. The main problem with this movie, besides it's runtime, comes down to the fact that it wants to be more than it can be - it wants to be a serious and depressing drama, which it can be, and then turn into a comedy five minutes later. It wants to be a rapid-fire and hilarious comedy, which it can be, and then turn into a drama five minutes later. The film can be both genres, but it can't navigate its way through using them effectively to create a solid and affecting product. And that's the most disappointing part of it all. Originally scheduled for a June 19 theatrical release before COVID-19 disrupted the cinema world (among so many other things) and shifting to a premium video on demand release shortly after really makes you wonder how this film would have been received in theatres, with an audience. Would people have sought it out? Would it have flopped at box office? These are answers we will never know the answer to, but in a world where new mid-budget to big-budget releases aren't making their way into homes and are instead being rescheduled into the distant to far future, it will be interesting to see how The King of Staten Island is received, and if people will want to watch it. And if you somehow skipped the rest of the review and decided to read the very end, take this away: if you have twenty dollars to spare and want new content, by all means, seek this out. While it doesn't get everything right, it hits the right note quite a few times, and has good intentions for it's entire two-plus hour runtime. And sometimes, that's more than enough.


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