Entertainment

Pete Davidson Crashes the Party in Judd Apatow's 'The King of Staten Island'

Judd Apatow's latest man-child takes the form of a barely fictionalized Pete Davidson.

the king of staten island
Universal Pictures

Judd Apatow loves a state of arrested development. The director is the preeminent chronicler of men who either can't or won't grow up, whether that be Steve Carell's action-figure-obsessed tech store employee in The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Seth Rogen's stoner who becomes an accidental father in Knocked Up. He's even, at least on one occasion, chronicled a woman's road to self-improvement -- Amy Schumer's deadbeat journalist who breaks out of her down, drunken phase -- thanks to Trainwreck

So it makes sense that Apatow would gravitate toward Pete Davidson, a comedian who has become synonymous with a certain brand of immaturity, for his latest project, which is now available to rent on all digital platforms. But don't expect the movie they made together to lean on that. The King of Staten Island is maybe not exactly the big broad comedy you might have thought it'd be; it's something altogether more melancholy. Sure, it's often very funny, but it's primarily a movie about grief. 

Ever since Davidson joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2014, he's been an object of fascination, mainly due to his youth, his tragic backstory, and his very public personal drama. Davidson's father was a firefighter who died on 9/11. He's been open about the trauma resulting from that, as well as his mental health and substance abuse issues. And then there was the whole engaged-to-Ariana-Grande thing

king of staten island
Universal Pictures

In The King of Staten Island, he stars as Scott Carlin, a thinly disguised version of Pete Davidson if Pete Davidson were an aspiring tattoo artist instead of a successful comedian. Scott is a 20-something who still lives at home with his mother -- true of Davidson as well. He spends his days getting high with his friends, having sex with his not-girlfriend (Bel Powley), and burying the deep sorrow he still has over the loss of his father, who, like Davidson's, died in the line of duty as a firefighter battling a hotel blaze. (Apatow has said he wanted to focus on Davidson's sadness rather than the collective sadness that 9/11 triggers.) 

Scott's lingering pain over his dad's death is reignited when his mom, Margie (the always wonderful Marisa Tomei), starts dating again. She meets Ray (Bill Burr), another firefighter, when he appears at her door, rightfully angry at a dumb thing Scott did. That is to say, Ray and Scott's relationship is immediately antagonistic and grows even more so when Scott learns of the budding romance between Ray and his mom. His frustration is less Oedipal and more rooted in the fact that Ray echoes his father, bringing all of Scott's bitterness bubbling up. 

At two hours and 17 minutes long, The King of Staten Island is shaggy and meandering. There is a detour to visit Scott's sister (Maude Apatow) in college and an out-of-place crime sequence involving Scott's burnout friends. Davidson, as I've noted before of his performance in Hulu's Big Time Adolescence, is a bizarrely appealing screen presence, the type of performer who makes it feel like you are just hanging out with him. The movie never elicits the kind of riotous laughs some of Apatow's other work has, but it's easy to fall into its rhythms. 

In what feels like a different lifetime, The King of Staten Island was supposed to premiere at SXSW and then hit theaters. But there's something almost appropriate about the fact that it's premiering at home, where it can be rented on any digital platform for $19.99. The King of Staten Island often feels like chilling with a funny friend as he works through his issues. He's nice to have around, occasionally overstays his welcome, but goes his own way eventually.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.