After the cancellation of his brilliant 1999 Freaks and Geeks television series, filmmaker Judd Apatow famously said he'd do everything in his power to make its cast (folks like Linda Cardellini, Jason Segal, James Franco and Seth Rogen) famous forever. He pretty much did do that, and it now seems like he's trying to weave the same magic with SNL's Pete Davidson. Only problem is, Davidson's not nearly as talented as some of those people, and his whole "I'm mentally ill so I'm interesting!" shtick isn't nearly as watchable as he thinks it is (full disclosure, I'm also mentally ill, so, like, I know it can be exhausting for people), even if we're supposed to read it as artistic vulnerability.
In Apatow/Davidson's newest collaboration (they previously worked together on the Hulu film Big Time Adolescence which, by the way, is shockingly similar to this movie), Davidson plays a Staten Island slacker loosely based on himself. His firefighter father died years earlier in a hotel fire (Davidson's real-life dad died similarly during 9/11), and he now uses it as an excuse to never grow up. But when his sister goes off to college and his mom (the always on-point Marisa Tomei) decides to start dating again, Scott doesn't much like the new guy (comedian Bill Burr, who is honestly damn good here), especially since he's a firefighter and that carries emotions, obviously, but also because there's like some Oedipus crap going down for sure…but that's never explored meaningfully.
The rest is some morality play on how we define ourselves and how even the most cannabis-loving 20-something can probably ditch the arrested development routine if only someone—anyone—would believe in them. Problem is, everyone around Davidson proves a better performer, from the aforementioned Tomei and Burr to a small but powerful turn from Steve motherfucking Buscemi. Had I known he was in this thing, I'd have been way more excited to see it. But even he can't save Davidson from his own self-indulgence or from how The King of Staten Island is basically Adam Sandler's Billy Madison only way longer and with way less of an impact and certainly without the awesome jokes about pissing one's pants. (Hey! Buscemi was in that one, too!)
I jest (mostly), and there will surely be people who see this movie and think about getting their shit together. Good for them. I like to think they'll hold onto The King of Staten Island until they find something better, or at least until rewatch it a few years down the line and think "I thought this was good? Jesus."
+Tomei, Burr and Buscemi; good use of music
The King of Staten Island
With Davidson, Tomei, Burr and Buscemi
VoD, R, 136 min.