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The King of Staten Island offers a poignant and funny look at arrested development 

Director and co-writer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Funny People) delivers a poignant dramedy about directionless 24-year-old Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Sirus). Scott spends his days smoking weed and trying to find people who will let him practice tattooing on them. He blames his failure to launch on his ADHD, Crohn's disease, and his firefighter father's death. As his much more mature younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) heads off for college and his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) encourages him to get on with his life, Scott's forced to confront his failures. (136 min.)

click to enlarge KING OF NOWHERE Pete Davidson stars as Scott Carlin, a directionless 24-year-old trying to figure out his life, in the Judd Apatow-directed dramedy The King of Staten Island, now at Redbox. - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Universal Pictures
  • KING OF NOWHERE Pete Davidson stars as Scott Carlin, a directionless 24-year-old trying to figure out his life, in the Judd Apatow-directed dramedy The King of Staten Island, now at Redbox.

Glen Pete Davidson's real-life father, Scott Davidson, was a New York City firefighter who died during the 9/11 attack, so this semi-autobiographical story feels very personal. Davidson's character, Scott, can't take responsibility for his own failures. He can't commit to anything, even his secret girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley), who he refuses to acknowledge publicly and who he thinks is too good for him anyway. He dropped out of high school, his attention span is too short to be a competent tattoo artist, and his mom's an enabler. The story gets traction when Scott tries to tattoo 9-year-old Harold (Luke David Blumm), whose dad, Ray (Bill Burr), shows up at Scott's house to confront him but becomes smitten with Scott's mom. Now Scott has to deal with his mom's new relationship, and he's been enlisted to walk Ray's kids to school as punishment for tattooing Harold. It also turns out that Ray, also a firefighter, knew Scott's father. The emotionally nuanced story is a terrific vehicle for Davidson, who exhibits depths I didn't think he had in him. It's a shame this film didn't have a chance to come out in theaters. It's terrific.

Anna I love an Apatow flick—they always manage to be funny and emotionally resonant, and The King of Staten Island falls firmly in those two categories. Scott may be 24, but he's also perpetually a 12-year-old. He hangs with the same group he always has, is sleeping with a girl he has known since fourth grade, and outright refuses to do anything outside of his comfort zone. Just getting him to put on a sport coat for his sister's graduation party is a headache for his mom, Margie, played by the magnificent Marisa Tomei. Instead of supporting his mom moving forward in life, he desperately clings to her, undermining Ray every chance he gets. We know he's not a bad guy, but the bonds he forms with Ray's kids as he walks them to school make Scott almost endearing. He reluctantly takes a job as a busser at his uncle's restaurant where he has to literally fight for his tips, and slowly but surely we watch Scott grow up and Margie start looking out for herself instead of everyone else. I agree that this should have been seen in theaters, but since we're all stuck at home, you might as well enjoy this Apatow gem any way you can.

Glen Like Scott's life, the first half of the film sort of meanders around, driving home the point that Scott's a mess, but by the second half, the film starts to get to its point, which is about a son reconciling his father's death, learning to take responsibility, and understanding that a family tragedy is surmountable with effort. When Scott starts to hang around Ray and the other firefighters, he begins to understand their motivations—and through them his father's—and sees his father in another light. He also discovers that Ray is a pretty good guy—good enough for his mother—and that his mother deserves a shot at happiness again. It's all surprisingly moving, and I was fully invested in Scott. You could argue the character and premise are pretty typical of an Apatow film, which are usually about man-boys learning to accept responsibility, but even though there's a familiar feel to the film, its personal connection to its star Davidson—whose real-life father was last seen running up the stairs of the Marriott World Trade Center—ups the emotional ante. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Anna At first, Scott seems almost flippant over losing his father, but we soon realize that resentment and deep sadness sit just below the surface. When Ray takes him to a ball game in hopes of bonding, Scott can't help but interject when Ray's fire crew starts talking about his father the hero. Heroes don't leave their kids and wife behind to run into burning buildings, Scott says. This contention is one of the big shifts in character development that we see from Scott after he moves into the fire house and starts to see what the job is really all about. I thought this flick was warm and funny, light enough to enjoy but with enough heart to stay with you. Watching this perpetual teenager finally grow up was a joy, and Davidson along with his supporting cast put together a gem. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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