Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin
Marisa Tomei as Margie Carlin
Bill Burr as Ray Bishop
Bel Powley as Kelsey
Maude Apatow as Claire Carlin
Steve Buscemi as Papa
Pamela Adlon as Gina
Ricky Velez as Oscar
Moises Arias as Igor
Lou Wilson as Richie
Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson & Dave Sirus
Scott (Davidson) has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister (Apatow) heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Tomei) and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys—Oscar (Velez), Igor (Arias) and Richie (Wilson)—and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey (Powley).
But when his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter named Ray (Burr), it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life.
The film also stars Buscemi as Papa, a veteran firefighter who takes Scott under his wing, and Adlon as Ray’s ex-wife, Gina.
The King of Staten Island is a semi-autobiographical film inspired by star and co-writer Davidson’s life (the character of Scott was raised in Staten Island like Davidson and was also seven when his father died on the job, the same age Davidson was in real-life when he lost his firefighter father during 9/11). Even if you didn’t know about Davidson’s background and history in relation to the story, though, you can still feel how personal and profound the entire movie is thanks to Davidson’s stellar work on and offscreen, supported by a solid cast, script, and Apatow’s direction.
The King of Staten Island embodies how humor can help ease pain, which is very relatable. We all deal with grief and unresolved issues in our own ways, but a common tool that helps many is finding a way to laugh. But laughter can only take us so far, and eventually, all of that pain has to be addressed. Following the death of his father at such a young age, Scott has been stuck in a dark place of mourning ever since. The first time we meet Scott, he is driving recklessly by squeezing his eyes shut and pressing on the gas, narrowly avoiding a serious accident. He then begins to repeat “I’m sorry” over and over again as he puts on his seatbelt. Scott’s risk-taking behavior makes a couple of things clear to the audience immediately: Scott is struggling and this movie is so much more than a comedy.
Make no mistake, though; The King of Staten Island is very, very funny and features some of the most unexpectedly amusing bits of dialogue that catches you off guard in the best ways. You can count on any scene with Scott and his stoner pals to provide plenty of levity (or really, Scott with anyone). Yet, even then, when they’re all hanging out in the basement watching movies instead of going out, Scott defends staying inside by commenting, “I like it here, it’s safe.” Comedy rides front-and-center in the film, but the movie’s heart is its most essential component.
The comedic beats and touching moments would not hit as hard without Davidson being surrounded by such a talented cast. Burr especially makes a case for being able to do more than just be loud and funny, and Tomei, Maude Apatow, Powley, Adlon, and the others all play their parts perfectly. Plus, we could all use a person like Buscemi’s Papa in our lives. Besides witnessing Scott’s (and Davidson’s) journey through unresolved grief and depression before reaching out for help in an effort to begin healing, the most special moments are the ones that are brutally honest and private. For example, when Kelsey tells Scott she feels bad that Scott doesn’t think he’s great, or when Scott is alone with his father’s things lamenting his sister’s graduation and her going away to college, or when Scott admits that he doesn’t know how to express himself but that he is more than meets the eye.
For anyone who has ever lost someone, or has ever been stuck in a rut, or who lives with mental health issues, has ever done some dumb shit with friends or has ever felt threatened by or struggled with change — this movie will resonate with you. And even if none of those things apply to your own life experience, you will still find yourself laughing out loud unexpectedly at one moment and feeling submerged with empathy for Scott in the next.
The movie may feel a little long for some viewers, but the time given to flesh out not only Scott’s character but those connected to him helps to avoid feeling like the story was too rushed. Apatow, Davidson, and the other writers struck gold with The King of Staten Island by creating a genuinely hilarious movie that is full of character and life. I’m a fan of much of Apatow’s previous work, but this might be the most special project he’s ever helped put on screen and I am endlessly impressed by Davidson’s performance as the actor is able to confront and cope with his own real-life loss as Scott starts the next chapter of his life.