Judd Apatow may have shepherded Steve Carell, Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer to big-screen commercial success over the past 15 years, but with each narrative feature since The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his creative prowess has steadily diminished.
Enter “SNL” bad boy Pete Davidson, whose life story and magnetic personality form the basis of The King of Staten Island, a magnificent comedy that builds on the star’s leading-man potential from this year’s similarly raucous Big Time Adolescence, and grants the filmmaker a return to form that’s easily his best comedy since Knocked Up (2007).
A terrific escape from the world and a happy reminder of the good that remains in it, the film stars Davidson as Scott (the name of the actor’s firefighter father, who died in the line of duty on 9/11), a directionless 20something who lives in the titular borough with his single mom Margie (a slightly miscast Marisa Tomei).
Reminiscent of Apatow’s best work, Scott quickly establishes himself as a comedic force via his jokey rapport with fellow drug-using, burnout friends Oscar (Ricky Velez, Netflix’s “Master of None”), Igor (Moises Arias, The Kings of Summer) and Richie (Lou Wilson, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) and his ability to toss off a witty one-liner in practically any situation.
Throw in signs of vulnerability regarding the lingering impact of his father’s death and his desire to be in a relationship with childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl), despite self-deprecating comments meant to protect both of them from potential heartache, and the stage is set for his personal growth.
The catalyst soon arrives in the form of firefighter Ray (Bill Burr, Daddy’s Home), whose interest in Margie brings out the problematic sides of Scott that need adjusting and, after plentiful denial, lands him in the obvious but necessary place to exorcise his demons — the local firehouse.
This new setting teams Scott with a healthier — but still plenty juvenile — male peer group led by Steve Buscemi’s lovingly salty Papa, and provides him with a fresh set of circumstances for his comedic gifts to shine, including a gut-busting singalong to The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight.”
But while Davidson inspires a welcome rebound for the filmmaker, Apatow still can’t help himself from indulging in nepotism — his daughter Maude is distractingly bad as Scott’s little sister Claire — and an overdose of final-act sincerity. Channeled through the gratuitously tattooed Davidson and Burr in an Uncle Pennybags mustache, however, the saccharine material works wonders.
Available to rent starting June 12 through Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD platforms