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‘The King of Staten Island’ – Pete Davidson successfully transitions from SNL to movies

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Poster of "The King of Staten Island"

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

The question on everyone’s mind about “The King of Staten Island” is pretty simple: has Pete Davidson got the goods?

Does he have the stuff to move from SNL to making movies? And not just Rob Schneider movies. Movies people with an IQ over 9 want to see.

For the first fifteen minutes or so, things don’t look good. “King” comes off like a Staten Island iteration on the TV series, “Jersey Shore.” It actually crosses your mind – am I going to have to spend the next two hours with people named Snooki and The Situation?

Poster of “The King of Staten Island”

And when one of Davidson’s pals cracks, “Staten Island is the only place New Jersey looks down on,” well, one can hardly blame you if your stomach starts to roil.

But wonder of wonders, the picture pulls itself together, becoming something original, low-key funny and even somewhat poignant.

Davidson plays Scott, a 24-year-old still living at home with his mom (Marisa Tomei). To call him a slacker would be aspirational at best.

His younger sister (Maude Apatow) is headed for college. Scott is headed for…the couch. He’s got Crohn’s disease, ADD, depression and a weed problem. And his dad, a firefighter, died on the job.

Yes, these are all setbacks, but Scott has become the weary load that everyone else has to carry. When his sister says she worries about him “every second I’m away from you,” Scott merely shrugs, yeah, “he has that effect on people.”

He’s a self-centered deadbeat who sucks all the air out of the room. Yet, as Davidson has proved on SNL, he’s still somehow likable. Not adorable – that would be what Adam Sandler or David Spade would go for – but someone who, for some reason, you don’t want to give up on.

However, there’s change in the air and it’s more than Sis moving out. After 17 years as a widow, Tomei meets a guy named Ray (Bill Burr). And wouldn’t you know it? He’s a fireman, too.

Thus, the movie gracefully glides into a mid-life romance (how many of those have you seem lately?). It’s hardly a spoiler to say Ray and Scott don’t hit it off (though Ray does make an effort). But when Mom suggests that, maybe, say, in about nine months, Scott might think about getting his own place, he wails like a four-year-old: “What did I do?”

A scene from “The King of Staten Island” – Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) in movie directed by Judd Apatow.

“The King of Staten Island” is directed by Judd Apatow who’s got a pretty good record when it comes to helping comedians make the transition to comic actors (Steve Carell, Amy Schumer). He also co-wrote the script with Davidson who based a lot of it on his own life (He grew up on Staten Island and his firefighter father died on 9/11).

The dialogue is often wonderful; you just wonder how anyone gets an ear like that. And the movie has respect and affection for its characters, which you just don’t see all that often (you also don’t often see a picture with a talent pool so deep that Steve Buscemi shows up in almost a throwaway).

Still, the movie does make mistakes. Most obviously, at 137 minutes, it’s much too long. It’s as if Apatow got so involved with these characters, he was loath to let them go. And the longer he stays with them, the more familiar the film becomes.

That said, there’s so much here to enjoy. “The King of Staten Island” has no designs on becoming a franchise or part of the MCU.  Rather, it offers a good story rooted in character and human interaction, sprinkled with some truly unexpected humor.

And yes, Davidson does have the goods. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

“The King of Staten Island” is available on demand.

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Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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