The King of Staten Island movie review: An atypical film about grief

The King of Staten Island, courtesy Universal Studios
The King of Staten Island, courtesy Universal Studios /

The King of Staten Island is not a typical film about grief

On Friday, The King of Staten Island, which stars Pete Davidson and was directed by Judd Apatow, was released via Video on Demand (VOD). The movie, which was slated for a theatrical release on June 19, 2020, was pushed forward for a VOD release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So for just $19.99, you can watch the movie from the comfort of your home on various streaming platforms.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Pete Davidson or Judd Apatow, I’ve been a fan of recent projects that Apatow has had his name attached to such as The Big Sick and Career Suicide, which both came out in 2017. I’ve also been aware of how outspoken Davidson has been about his struggle coping with his father’s death, which inspired this film. So naturally, I wanted to see how well this duo tackled a subject matter such as grief while playing to their talents as comedians.

Luckily, Apatow and Davidson hit it out of the park, striking a balance between the outlandish humor that both men are known for while being able to hit the appropriate emotional beats.

Spoilers ahead!

Pete Davidson is The King of Staten Island

In The King Of Staten Island, Pete Davidson plays Scott Carlin, a 24-year-old who lives with his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow) in their home on Staten Island. Ever since the death of his father, a firefighter who died on the job, Scott has been emotionally stunted, and since dropping out of high school, Scott spends his days hanging out with his friends and smoking marijuana.

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This worries both his mother, Margie, a school and ER nurse who feels that she’s enabled his co-dependence, and Claire, Scott’s younger sister, who’s always felt the need to look out for him. Scott seemingly has no direction in life, although he aims to become a tattoo artist and open up a tattoo restaurant, a place where people can eat food or get a tattoo. However, with no one willing to give him a legitimate apprenticeship, he’s left to practice tattooing his friends.

One day, while hanging out at the beach, Scott and his friends are approached by a nine-year-old boy who Scott then offers to tattoo. However, after tattooing a single line, the boy runs off scared. Later that day, the boy’s father, Ray (Bill Burrr), arrives at Scott’s mom’s house to demand that he pay for the tattoo’s removal. Luckily for Scott, Margie agrees to use her discount at the ER to pay for it herself.

Ray returns the next day to apologize for his behavior and asks Margie out to dinner. The two end up hitting it off and begin a relationship that they hide from Scott. However, they eventually come clean, setting off a series of events that change the course of Scott’s life.

The King of Staten Island isn’t a typical movie about grief

The King of Staten Island is a movie about grief. Scott has never learned how to properly grieve for his father because he lost him at a very young age. As a result, he’s never fully realized the extent to which his father’s death affected him. In his eyes, his dad died a hero, leaving big shoes to fill.

Scott’s never felt like he could live up to that image, so he’s wandered through life aimlessly, trying to find where he fits into the world. However, when his mother starts dating Ray, who’s also a fireman, Scott is forced to grapple with his grief and start making an effort to grow up. Of course, that process doesn’t come without its challenges, and Scott quickly begins butting heads with Ray.

However, he eventually comes to lean on him for emotional support, and Ray, along with his firehouse buddies, takes Scott in as one of their own. Through their mentoring, Scott buckles down and begins to believe that he deserves more out of life than what he has, especially after learning some things about his father that allow him to stop putting him on a pedestal.

If you’re looking for a movie that piles on the main character’s emotions until the film’s grand emotional climax, The King of Staten Island may disappoint you. On the surface, the movie seems like a collection of unrelated, hilarious moments that amount to a muted emotional climax.

However, the path through grief and mental illness is not a straight line, and I believe that what we’re supposed to witness by the end of the movie is not Scott at the end of his journey but at a crossroads. In admitting his feelings for Kelsey, who he’d spent the majority of the movie keeping at an arm’s length, he’s made an active choice to fight for something that he wants. It’s a muted emotional climax, but one that’s deserved because he’s finally willing to move forward.

It’s a valuable lesson that we could all stand to learn, to acknowledge when we’ve reached that moment in our lives where we’re presented with a choice to move in one direction or another. Each day we’re presented with a series of seemingly unrelated choices. Each day we must continue to make these choices or find ourselves standing still while the world continues on around us.

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What did you think of The King of Staten Island? Would you like to see another collaboration between Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow with Pete as the lead? Let us know.

Click here for the complete list of ways that you can stream The King of Staten Island