The King of Staten Island

Year: 2020
Studio: Universal
Director: Judd Apatow
Producer: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow/Pete Davidson/Dave Sirius
Cast: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Maude Apatow, Bel Powley, Steve Buscemi

Judd Apatow isn't too prolific as a writer/director, and his projects are always slightly overlong and slightly indulgent. But he manages to win me over every time because of how naturalistic his actors and dialogue are and how even among a raft of plot and interlocking characters – some of them initially hard to root for, like here – he manages to find a level of depth and heart that's increasingly uncommon in Hollywood.

We meet Scott (Pete Davidson), a jagoff laying around playing video games, taking drugs and doing nothing with his life along with his posse of similarly lazy pals and sometime girlfriend Kelsey. He wants to be a tattooist but has neither the smarts, motivation or perhaps even the talent to do so.

He has fractious but loving relationships with his mother (Marisa Tomei) and sister (Maude Apatow, and hasn't she grown up) but he's more than slightly haunted by the dad he never got to know, a firefighter who died in the line of duty when Scott was seven and who he idolises and hates in equal measure.

Even worse (to Scott), they all live in the New York enclave of the title, a place with none of the cachet or opportunity of Brooklyn or Manhattan that feels like kind of a backwater.

The inciting incident of the story is when Scott and his bozo pals are sitting around on the shoreline, the towers of Manhattan beckoning beyond the water, when a little kid comes along. They all get talking about tattoos and when the kid says he wants one Scott convinces the kid to let him practice on him by giving him one. As soon as he touches the tattoo gun to the boy's flesh however, he screams and runs away and the guys figure that's the end of it.

Later on, the boy and his enraged father Ray (Bill Burr) show up on Scott's doorstep demanding something be done, but he's taken aback by Scott's mother, warming to her, seeing more of her and - eventually, to Scott's horror, since he's not only uncool but a firefighter like Scott's Dad was – asking her out.

The plot then finds its 'Hollywood' romcom-style moment when Scott resolves to break Ray and his mother up, scandalised that his mom would go for such a whitebread doofus. But even then – and even with asides that could be comical like the backyard fight and the pharmacy robbery – Apatow handles it all with aplomb, a finesse that never feels less than a hundred percent honest.

His mother, though loving, has been despairing of Scott's inability to move forward with life and grow up, and puts her foot down, breaking up with Ray and kicking Scott out to find his own way. When even his main squeeze Kelsey has grown up enough to realise he's no good for her and won't take him in, Scott has nowhere else to go but Ray's firehouse. Ray and his comrades let Scott sleep there but as time goes on they tell him he has to pull his weight.

Of course it's going to precipitate the story of the young layabout learning a bit about the world and being made to grow up and appreciate responsibility by brute force, but once again the Apatow milieu kicks in and the same kind of thing has rarely been done with this much raw emotional richness.

It's quite skilled on Apatow's part that you end up really wanting a character like the selfish, immature Scott to succeed. As the story progresses you can see how his inner pain holds him back, but it's in the script (written by Davidson along with Apatow and Dave Sirus) and Davidson's performance that you feel like you're dealing with a real guy and not a movie character every step.

It's a long movie for a comedy drama because Apatow apparently has a contract that no studio suit is allowed to reign him in or make him trim subplots, but it's worth it.

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