The King of Staten Island

It’s been right at about 3 months since I’ve actually been to the theater. It was sometime in mid March when I saw “The Invisible Man”. If I was a more tedious person I might go look up the actual date but I’m comfortable estimating. I’m pretty sure in recent years that its the longest I’ve gone without a trip to the multiplex for something. Being in the theater feels like home so I try to get there as often as I can. So it has been hard to deal with all this nonsense in the world around us all these days. We had Trolls. It was a good, fun time. Scoob! hit all the right nostalgia notes while making it fun in the 21st century, even without the Harlem Globetrotters. And while I’m a guy who can definitely get down with some cartoons, I do enjoy movies for adults too. No, not like that. You know what I mean. Grown up movies that aren’t cartoons. Thankfully that drought is over.

Making the distinction between theatrical movies and the standard fare we’d watch on Netflix of Hulu these days is a thin line. Even the concept of Video On Demand of VOD for those who don’t have time to stop and spell the acronyms, even when they’re in bloom, is a different kind of concept. Honestly there have been some really top notch films that the streaming services have put together. 6 Underground with Ryan Reynolds (yes, I’m well aware how often I go to that well. I don’t care.) and directed by Michael Bay is one that I would easily pay to go see in theaters. In fact, my blu ray copy of it is a really fancy bootleg because its not even available on home media. Its strictly on Netflix. This makes it hard to tell what really is a big screen and little screen worthy movie. Regardless, Judd Apatow’s most recent vehicle with Pete Davidson starring had every intention of being a theatrical release. So even with the $20 price tag and the fact that I watched on the same screen as any other streaming movie, you kind of feel like there should be something different about it. Let me see if I can make the case.

Judd Apatow is a comedian’s comedian. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that somewhere because I don’t feel comfortable taking credit for that kind of label. Knowing what I know about him, he’s been obsessed with Stand Up comedy since he was a kid, which is something I share with him. Everybody loves comedians because they make us laugh but I do like to think that there’s a breed of people that get comedy and comedians on another level. I’m not making some bid at being a type of “insider cool” or something like that. There’s just something about the world of a comedian that doesn’t operate the same as the world for everybody else. It’s by no means an exclusive club or anything. It’s just kind of an outlook on the world that you either see or you don’t. Think of it like those Magic Eye pictures from the 90’s. But what Apatow does that makes him special in my book is he takes that world of the comedian and translates it for everyone else in really uniquely crafted vehicles.

Apatow has a penchant for low brow like many of the greats. However, the way he’s been able to elevate certain comedians is just magic to me.

I’ll give a little rundown of the plot of the film. I’m not going to do spoiler warnings because I want people to see this movie. It’s been getting high praise and I think its definitely worth it. And I’m not even that huge of a fan of Pete Davidson. Well, I should rephrase that. I WASN’T that huge of a fan of Pete Davidson. Much like my disdain for Seth Rogen in the past, it has waned quickly in being able to see him in a different light than previous ventures. Anyway, Pete Davidson plays Scott. He’s a 24 year old resident of Staten Island with no direction and plenty of excuses for his shortcomings in life. His biggest crutch is that his hero firefighter father died when he was only 7 and uses this as the source for most of his character flaws in his young adult life. He is a pothead who dreams of being a tattoo artist and even opening the first tattoo restaurant combination. I know. It’s a horrible idea. The movie covers that. He lives at home with his mom who is played by Marissa Tomei. His younger sister has just graduated high school and is off to college with her best friend. So now its just mom and Scott in the house together.

Through a fateful incident where Scott’s less than stellar judgement causes him to “practice” his tattooing on a wayward 9 year old who stumbles upon Scott and his loser friends hanging out near the beach one day. This is the catalyst to bring his father into the picture, played by Bill Burr. He is also a fireman and while confronting Scott’s Mom about the tattoo attempt, he learns that he knows exactly who this family is. Being divorced, he asks mom out for coffee and a romance blossoms. From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to the revealing to Scott that this is happening. He plays overreacts, then plays nice but ultimately wants to break them up. Things ride a little bit of an emotional roller coaster here and there but we work our way to Mom getting fed up with both of them after an embittered poolside throwing down of fisticuffs one afternoon and she throws them both out. Essentially now Scott is faced with no more safety net and winds up at the firehouse with Ray and the rest of the firemen, including Steve Buscemi as the old man of the house. Through this experience we get to see things start to change for Scott for the good. And that’s where I’ll leave that. You’d get the same feel for that plot, with maybe a few less minor details. But I’ve also left out several plot points to keep things interesting when you inevitably watch the film. You’re welcome.

What I really want to focus on is how much I actually appreciate the mode in which Apatow works. He has this inherent knack for picking out young, aspiring comedians and molding their story with elements of fiction for storytelling and finds a way to blend really substantial humor with some serious and heartfelt moments. He did it frequently in the few episodes of Freaks and Geeks that he directed way back at the beginning of his career. This brought us Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Martin Starr and Linda Cardellini to name just a few he skyrocketed to fame. But he’s done the same thing a number of times on the big screen as well. Sure some of his flicks are fairly sophomoric and I’m totally down with that. And they have their time and place for me where I just need something stupid funny to kick back and relax. Apatow has a penchant for low brow like many of the greats. However, the way he’s been able to elevate certain comedians is just magic to me. Trainwreck with Amy Schumer is easily her best work to date, both film and comedy. The Big Sick with Kumail Nanjiani has really helped put him more front and center as well. His career is very much on the upward trajectory with him even joining the MCU in the upcoming film “The Eternals” where he got SUPER ripped and buff. And now Apatow has seen that same molding clay in the talent and story of Pete Davidson.

Davidson is one you’d probably most readily recognize from sporadic appearances on SNL. He’s been in the cast for a few years now but he’s hardly a mainstay of many sketches. His tattooed facade and boyish look type cast him regularly. If you took Jimmy Fallon in his SNL days back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, tatted him up and surrounded him with weed jokes and rap music, you’d have a pretty reliable facsimile of Pete Davidson. And because of that, as well as some genuine mental health issues that Davidson has been fairly candid about at times, he’s been spotty in his appearances on SNL as well as other vehicles. Outside of that probably his most noteworthy accomplishment was a short lived but very public romance with singer Ariana Grande a couple years ago. These are the two outlets I would imagine most people would recognize him from professionally. While the latter isn’t necessarily a “gig” he had, it was probably equally beneficial for his career and visibility. Either way, this movie is a big deal for him and the trajectory of his career and after watching it, I have much higher hopes for Davidson.

The other, and maybe better comparison that Davidson garners regularly is a modern day Adam Sandler. I can definitely see this in many ways. Even when Sandler was in his heyday on SNL, he was still a character guy and didn’t regularly command a scene with authority but worked better as part of an ensemble. If it was Farley and Spade, something with Rob Schneider or his various stints as random caricatures on Weekend Update, Sandler had a niche and worked it to his advantage regularly with a significant return on his investment now decades later. Many of Sandler’s stand alone films were based on SNL characters he played. Davidson really captures that same lovable brashness that Sandler embodies. They have very similar ability and timing when it comes to their controlled outbursts. What I like about Davidson after watching KoSI (yes, I’m abbreviating now too. Whatever.) is that he really does have a presence when he wants to. He plays off of his seeming incompetence and low self esteem but not in an overt, self deprecating sort of fashion. There are definitely times where he’s using it for a bit of sympathy but not in that subversive, attention seeking way. You actually believe that he believes he’s not worthy of this or that because I think he really does feel that way. And it doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes like he’s fishing for compliments but it lends itself to a real sympathy you feel for him and his character in the film. I think because of this, he walks that line where art imitates life with a precision that leaves me wanting more of Pete Davidson.

The last thing I’ll say about the movie, and I’ll do so in nondescript terms so as to not give anything away, is that it doesn’t end like a lot of movies. There’s a happiness to the ending of the film, but its not a happy ending. There’s an open endedness to the story but not in that lack of closure sort of fashion where you decide what happens. The movie is a mechanism whereby Davidson’s character is able to begin growing up and so at the end of the movie, the story isn’t finished so it’s not proper to end it. But its at a plateau where you don’t need to necessarily figure out what happens next. It’s a very satisfying ending in my estimation because it really does mirror the whole pace of the storytelling. I think this is where Apatow and Davidson come together intertwined in their film making and writing abilities to showcase what kind of story this is. I genuinely enjoyed it. Over the weekend I had been toying with watching it and not because the price tag was $20 and its just me watching it. I share my subscription account with the rest of my family so maybe one of them will also get a watch and enjoy it. I’m somewhat hopeful of that just in the sense that other people can enjoy it as well. But I kept going back and forth because I wanted to watch it after seeing the trailers and reading up on it. It was getting high praise and solid ratings from those who were seeing it. With all that pushing me forward and then just feeling some misguided sense of responsibility to whoever may be on the other side of this little write up, I took the plunge and I don’t regret any part of it. Honestly, I may watch it again in the next couple of days just for the heck of it. I don’t know what scale I’d use if its an A- (just because I feel like I should reserve that top spot for the best of the best) or it its 4.5 out of 5 stars or what. However you want to rank this film, it’s a refreshing NEW movie for us to enjoy in this desert of new releases we still find ourselves in at this time. And it’s not animated. You could pop some popcorn, grab a beverage and some snacks and enjoy a date night in for sure with this movie. You will laugh for sure. And I don’t necessarily qualify any real tears. There’s a couple heartfelt moments but its really just a solid movie from start to finish in my book. So I’ll leave it at that. Thank you for entertaining my written wiles on all things King of Staten Island. As always, I’ve been your Cinemaster to the North, Adam Peterson. I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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