The King of Staten Island Movie Review

Pete Davidson is not your average Saturday Night Live cast member. He is less known for characters he plays and is more known for essentially portraying himself on Weekend Update sketches. That includes warts and all with his much publicized romantic life, struggles with mental health and drug issues, and tragic family history. It is no surprise that Judd Apatow is the director to bring his semi autobiographical story to the big screen in The King of State Island. And the Apatow treatment comes with the high points of his previous efforts. It also comes with the warts and all of his pics that includes an unnecessarily lengthy running time and subplots that don’t really pan out.

The big screen treatment ended up being a misnomer since Island went the Video on Demand route due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Davidson is Scott Carlin, an aimless 24 year old living with his mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) in the borough where it is joked that New Jersey looks down upon. His little sister (Maude Apatow) is an achiever who is moving along to college. Scott’s longtime friend and sort of girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) is a glass half full type in contrast with his constantly half empty outlook. The similarities between Davidson and his character are hard to miss. Scott’s father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty and so did Davidson’s on 9/11. Substance abuse and effects of ADD are prevalent with Scott and, as mentioned, the actor hasn’t been shy about addressing those matters.

One key difference: Davidson has been a pop culture fixture on the famous sketch comedy show for a few years. The man he is playing isn’t accomplishing much of anything. His idea to open a tattoo parlor/restaurant is met with understandable skepticism. Scott’s arrested development is dealt a setback when Margie finds romance after 17 years of being a widow with fireman Ray (Bill Burr). Their courtship elevates his anxieties to a new level.

Apatow, over the past decade and half, has elevated numerous comedic performers to new heights. These include Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. The similarities here are most in line with the latter as Davidson’s known persona is put through the cinematic lens. As an avid SNL watcher, I have found his bits occasionally inspired and frequently a little grating. It is a credit to Apatow and Davidson that Island finds a balance that is primarily satisfying. However, that’s not to say there aren’t issues. Island is too long. A subplot regarding Scott and his buddies and a pharmaceutical heist could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. While it often deftly switches between humorous and serious segments, the tone shifts are not always consistent.

On the bright side, some scenes are quite well done. This includes a night out with Scott, Ray, and some fellow firefighters where his late dad’s angelic legacy is tarnished to his son’s delight. Every time romantic interest Kelsey (with a terrific performance by Powley) is around, it works. I actually found myself wishing Scott had more interest in her because she deserves more screen time.

Ultimately The King of Staten Island is vintage Apatow and that includes the glass being measured in both ways. Thankfully it is full for the most part.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The King of Staten Island

The latest dramedy from director Judd Apatow is receiving a lot of similar praise and a bit of the same criticism as other titles in his filmography. The King of Staten Island hits the VOD circuit this Friday after foregoing a theatrical release due to COVID-19. The pic is a showcase for Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson, who’s received as much press for his personal life as his SNL antics. This is a semi-autobiographical vehicle for him and reviews out today give high marks to his work.

Overall Island currently stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Several critics are calling it Apatow’s most mature work. There are kudos for the supporting cast that includes Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, and Bel Pawley. On the flip side, there are some complaints about its 136 minute runtime. This is a common gripe for the director’s efforts.

While Oscar attention is unlikely, the pic could garner the attention of Golden Globes voters since it splits acting races between Drama and Musical/Comedy. In the latter, Davidson could be a contender for Actor. Yet the Apatow track record at the Globes is shaky. Neither Steve Carell (The 40 Yr. Old Virgin) or Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) made the final five. I would especially say that Carell was robbed in 2005. On the other hand, 2015’s Trainwreck nabbed Amy Schumer an Actress mention.

Bottom line: some awards chatter for Apatow’s latest stand-up star could happen, but I don’t think it would be at the biggest show of all. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Front Runner Movie Review

Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner is a true political story that transfixed the nation three decades ago. The Presidential campaign of Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) happened at a time just as cable was set to dominate how we get our news. Newspapers could see it coming and The Miami Herald, for better or worse, got ahead of the curve by venturing into tabloid territory. The Washington Post here is uncertain whether they should veer in that direction. However, they see the sensationalism train beginning to roll and can’t be the highbrow publication to pump the brakes.

It was The Post that exploited a massive Commander-in-Chief scandals a few years prior with Watergate. Here it’s the extramarital activities of Hart. We first witness him in 1984 conceding to Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who would lose badly to President Reagan. Yet his run wasn’t wasted as he becomes the film’s title four years later. He appears set to top the ticket until three wild weeks occur in 1987. It involves his relationship with a young woman Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) and the media’s fixation on it. The days of reporters looking the other way when it comes to extracurricular activity is finished.

In this screenplay from Reitman, Matt Bai, and Jay Carson, Hart is alternatively seen as a sympathetic figure while not completely ignoring that he was a lousy spouse. Vera Farmiga is wife Lee and she’s given a few moments to shine as his conflicted partner. Her performance, while more limited in time, is the strongest. She emerges as the most fascinating character, but the marriage is given short treatment. This film is more geared towards critiquing our feeding frenzy media landscape. And while the times were a-changin’ thirty years ago, the script never finds an angle to shed any meaningful light on it.

Candidate Hart himself didn’t see the tide turning and felt his personal life was just that. As played by Jackman, he’s an enigma focused on policy proposals and not the show biz acumen that comes with the territory (let’s not forget he’s attempting to succeed the first movie star POTUS). It frustrates staff including his campaign manager (J.K. Simmons). They believe in him, but realize he gets in his own way.

The Front Runner tries to say Important Things about a campaign that’s influenced all that have followed. Hart’s foibles in our current environment may be considered quaint. That said, the pic rarely makes its points seem bold or fresh. There’s been fictional politico tales such as Primary Colors and Bulworth that were more entertaining and perceptive in their take on this particular universe. This lies toward the back of the pack in the genre.

** (out of four)