How about spending two hours and 16 minutes with a smart-assed, perpetually stoned flatliner from arguably the most low-rent culture on the Eastern seaboard and certainly the scuzziest borough of New York City, a place so low on the cultural totem pole than even New Jerseyans look down upon it? And at the same time a well-crafted film with heart and honesty and a relatable personality? And which ends…well, hopefully?
You can give the side-eye to Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson‘s The King of Staten Island all you want. You can say it’s too oddball fringe-y, too lower-depths, too submerged on its own weed planet and too caught up in nihilism and arrested development to connect with Joe and Jane Popcorn.
Which I strongly disagree with. Because it’s funny and plain-spoken (if a bit dismaying at times) and it doesn’t back off from an unusual milieu and mentality, and certainly from Pete Davidson‘s “Scott”, a layabout for the ages.
KOSI made me smile and guffaw and even laugh out loud several times (highly unusual for an LQTM-er). And I believed every word of it…every line, emotion, situation, character. It’s peddling sardonic humor that doesn’t feel schticky, although I guess it is. The tone is low-key raw, kinda nervy, certainly unpretentious and 90% bullshit-free.
Okay, it softens up during the final passage, but I welcomed this with open arms. Because a film about wall-to-wall, start-to-finish nihilism would be too much. And the length (136 minutes) doesn’t feel longish but completely necessary and natural.
And it fills out Davidson’s comic persona to the extent that he’s suddenly a completely compelling big-screen presence and (am I allowed to say this?) a movie star. And I loved the supporting turns by Bel Powley (whom I’d never really warmed to before), Bill Burr (whom I admire but have never found screamingly funny as a stand-op), Marisa Tomei and the always authentic Steve Buscemi.
It’s a shame this Universal release is going straight-to-streaming this Friday (6.12), as I’d love to watch it a third time at the Arclight with a couple of hundred know-it-alls and generally, you know, groove with the room.
The script (co-penned by Apatow, Davidson and Dave Sirus) is….what, 75% inspired by Davidson’s own life? Same Staten Island upbringing, same deceased fireman dad (killed in a local apartment fire rather than inside the World Trade Center on 9/11, which actually happened when Pete was 7), same living-with-mom (Marisa Tomei) and getting-ripped-with-loser-friends lifestyle. Quippy and weird and oddly endearing.
The difference is that it imagines how things might have turned out if Davidson hadn’t begun to try stand-up comedy in his mid teens and had stayed in an aimless funk into his mid 20s.
Aside from an unlikely dream of becoming a tattoo artist and an idiotic plan to open a combination tattoo parlor and restaurant, Scott is living a kind of “whatever” lifestyle, smoking weed and poking at this or that pretention, generally hanging back as time flies by and even flirting with stupid suicide, as dramatized in the opening scene.
KOSI reminded me at times of the Last Exit to Brooklyn milieu and the boozy despairing blokes in the British “kitchen sink” dramas of the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Scott is in a friends-with-benefits relationship with longtime friend Kelsey (Powley). His disapproving sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is about to leave for college. And his three bonged-out friends are on the verge of becoming petty felons.
And then mom begins dating a divorced, bald-headed fireman with a rangy moustache (Burr) and Scott is like “what?” And the film becomes a story about an emotionally stalled quipster-stoner trying to break up their relationship. But eventually (and thank God) there’s a way out of that.
You know you’re in good hands when a film you’ve clicked with seems to be more on-point the second time. Last week I got an even better kick out of the dialogue and enjoyed the performances all the more, not to mention the exotic atmosphere and how it all fits together in a reasonably neat and satisfying way. And without a single ounce of fat.
For my money The King of Staten Island is easily as good as Apatow’s Funny People (although a bit more despairing and downmarket) and at times as emotionally poignant as Trainwreck but braver, in a sense.
It’s significant that the film doesn’t hop on the ferry and visit lower Manhattan until the very last scene. Because the KOSI version of Staten Island is really a zone apart — thousands of miles from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Scott’s stoner bros (including “fat Kanye”) are so low-rent and devolved they pretty much border on the vegetative.
But I admired the commitment to this realm. The comedy hasn’t been sitcommed or punched up, or at least not in the usual ways. It feels real and grounded, and yet, per standard practice when it comes to Apatow’s brand, carefully honed and sculpted as far as the unrefined voices of the various characters are concerned. I loved that the film doesn’t feel slick or overly “presented”.
I feel I have a certain understanding of the mindset of guys who feel stalled and are treading water in their mid 20s because I was there. I was trying like hell, but I almost died from lethargy and inertia and creeping depression. Not to the point of driving with my eyes closed, but I was kinda close to that in ‘79 and early ‘80.
My initial reactions went from feeling vaguely appalled to intrigued to fascinated (the Staten Island Yankees?) and tickled and occasionally given to chortles and guffaws, and now and then to outright hah-hah. When the one-liners land (and not just Pete’s) they’re really good. The best jokes are always the cruelest. Or the bluntest.
Davidson obviously steps up in a kind of droll, casually centered way (his acting doesn’t feel the least bit anxious or sharpened — during the last third he’s delivering on the same level as Amy Schumer’s funeral oration scene, at least by my calculus) but I was also really impressed with Burr and Powley’s performances.
I know I said this earlier, but I believed every word. And I loved the final shot.