With his tragicomedy THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND Director and author Judd Apatow remains true to the line he has taken for many years and stages a likeable loser story directly from the main character’s everyday life. So far no signs of fatigue. We reveal more about this in our review.
Scott is secretly in love with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley).
The plot summary
Scott (Pete Davidson) was only seven years old when his father died while working as a firefighter. He is now in his mid-twenties and hasn’t achieved much in life – his dream of a career as a tattoo artist seems a long way off. While his ambitious younger sister (Maude Apatow) goes to college, Scott still lives with his overworked mother (Marisa Tomei). His everyday life consists of consuming substances that are not always legal, hanging out with his equally corrupt friends and occasional sex dates with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley). But when his mother begins dating a loudmouth firefighter (Bill Burr), it sets off a chain of events that force Scott to confront his past and take his life into his own hands.
There are only a few filmmakers who can be said to have something like a script handwriting. The works of directing virtuosos such as Gaspar Noé (“Climax”) , Nicolas Winding Refn (“The Neon Demon”) or the films based on novels by Nicholas Sparks (“The Choice”) are often recognized by their visual appeal, but there are recurring narrative motifs are usually rare; also because creative people quickly find themselves accused of always doing the same thing. However, it worked for director, writer and producer Judd Apatow (“Dating Queen”) . You can usually recognize his films – even those that he only produced – without looking at the crew list. Because the auteur, who draws a lot on his own experiences, “The King of Staten Island” is partly biographically influenced by his main actor, and in his films, which are mostly long, he primarily films the everyday life of completely normal people, which is riddled with obstacles, and places them in perspective with both a handful of crude humor and a lot of heart. Now one could argue that this is only somewhat special. Finally, some of Apatow’s colleagues act in a very similar way. Richard Linklater (“Bernadette”), for example, or Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”) . But while both tend to fish in the arthouse sector, Apatow clearly caters to a mainstream audience. His latest work “The King of Staten Island” is no exception and is an Apatow film through and through. Especially in a positive sense.
Richie (Lou Wilson), Scott (Pete Davidson), Oscar (Ricky Velez) and Igor (Moises Arias) live every day.
Apatow usually casts mostly audience favorites in his films. In “Dating Queen” Amy Schumer and Bill Hader fell in love, in “Always Trouble at 40” Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann had to deal with the consequences of getting older and “The First Time” followed Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in their unexpected baby happiness. Stand-up comedian and actor Pete Davidson, who already had a small guest appearance in “Dating Queen”, only partially falls into the “Everybody’s Darling” category and regularly offends the audience with his rough comedy, and has even stood because of his cheeky mouth at the center of one or two scandals. While it seems obvious that Apatow would at least deviate from his casting habits in “The King of Staten Island,” you will quickly be proven wrong as soon as you have seen even a few minutes of the tragicomedy. The story about an unsuccessful loser who has never been able to get his life together since his father’s early accidental death and who now enjoys the self-pity role could hardly be told credibly using a classic Hollywood beau. You need a character whose listless slacker attitude you can buy from, but above all you can buy his constant change into a contemporary who does his daily work as normal, without directly turning it into a clichéd story of self-discovery and advancement. With the way of looking at his characters that is deeply rooted in his style, lovingly ironic but also with the necessary seriousness, Apatow allows us to look into the soul of this person who is actually deeply sad inside. In the end, even for a character like Scott who was initially so obnoxious, you wish that his life could finally take a turn for the better.
“The story about an unsuccessful loser who has never gotten his life together since his father’s early accidental death and who now enjoys the self-pity role could hardly be told credibly using a classic Hollywood beau.”
Apatow ensures that this development is never cliched by applying his other technical skills. Especially in the first half, “The King of Staten Island” tends to be a crude comedy. Without the often used fecal humor, but scenes in which Scott tattoos a nine-year-old (!) or argues excessively with his sister just because he doesn’t want to wear a suit at her graduation party live – in the truest sense of the word – from them Volume and not exactly detailed character analysis. Apatow’s powers of observation when it comes to drawing ordinary people that could exist right in our neighborhood also come into play in “The King of Staten Island.” Especially in the dialogues, Scott and his friends, who are rather uninterested in world events, appear intuitive in their interaction, and the words spoken are improvised. With what is said, Scott, his girlfriend Kelsey and the rest of the clique even move into the white trash milieu from time to time; an interesting, if not always entirely authentic, contrast to the actually quite well-off world of young adults. But even for this, Judd Apatow finds a visual and equally narratively authentic counterpart that sets the whole thing straight in literally the last second. While “The King of Staten Island” begins with a shot in which only the protagonist’s eyes can be seen in the rearview mirror of his car, meaning the view is limited to the essentials, the film ends with a shot of Scott with his eyes wide open sees the New York skyline. Over the course of the film, his eyes opened and he broke out of his self-imposed isolation.
Whether it takes another two and a half hours to tell the protagonist’s change in character remains to be seen. Time and time again, Apatow demonstrates his preference for long shots (camera: Robert Elswit, “Suburbicon”) and dialogues that are always a little too detailed are a disaster; perhaps also because he is given as much freedom as possible in the post-production of the film. However, in “The King of Staten Island” this style works better than in some other Apatow productions, because in order not to fall into the trap of clichés and stereotypes, the makers need a few more scenes for gradation so that the character does not change too much to force. The long phase before the meeting between Scott’s mother (Marisa Tomei is hardly recognizable in the role) and her new love interest allows the audience to participate in detail in the ambivalent world (view) of the young adults when their dreams, fears and longings are revealed .
“Especially in the dialogues, Scott and his friends, who are rather uninterested in world events, appear intuitive in their interaction, and the words spoken are improvised.”
This is followed by Scott’s confrontation with the fact that he will soon have to leave the “Hotel Mama” at home and stand on his own two feet. Something that, despite his age of 24, presents him with an almost impossible task. “The King of Staten Island” depicts the believable, never overly constructed hurdles he has to overcome with equal amounts of humor and tragedy and does not ignore the naive argumentativeness of the main character. But slowly you start to allow him his happiness. And in the end, Apatow will satisfy his audience’s desires with a sweetly understated scene.
Conclusion: Director and writer Judd Apatow does what he does best with “The King of Staten Island” and takes an authentic, tragic and funny look at an initially obnoxious, but later increasingly lovable loser, who Pete Davidson embodies with absolute devotion. Thanks to the generous running time of two and a half hours, Apatow avoids many clichés.
“The King of Staten Island” can be seen in cinemas from July 30th and is available to rent.