Much has been made of Judd Apatow’s output over the last fifteen years as to whether he has lost his mojo a little after his explosive beginnings as a director. The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up had huge success but 2009’s Funny People and 2012’s This Is 40 came in for some criticism for being a little too self-indulgent. And yet, Funny People, in particular, was perhaps his finest work that showed his true range as a filmmaker, bringing more pathos and maturity than his earlier, broader work had showcased.
So it’s not surprising he leaped onto The King of Staten Island and through a film that’s less showy but completely familiar, he has perhaps produced his finest work to date, beautifully and articulately balancing the dramatic moments – of which there are many – with the typical wit and fast-paced humour synonymous with his work.
Pete Davidson takes the lead as Scott, a typical Apatow/Rogen concoction in many regards – stoner, arrested development, stuck in a rut and spending his time in dark, hazy basements – but this is semi-autobiographical in many ways as it’s based on parts of Davidson’s own life, having lost his fire-fighter father during the 9/11 terror attacks. Lost, without any real direction or father-figure in his life, his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow) have tried valiantly to bring him back to life, as has on-off girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) but Scott’s struggles have left him beyond their help. It’s when his mum starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), a local fireman, that sees Scott’s life and outlook change dramatically.
Indeed, huge kudos must also go to Davidson whose soulful, elegant performance is the heartbeat of the film and one that will go some way to elevating the actor from his Saturday Night Live cast-member status into a fully-fledged leading man. Drawing from his own experiences, Davidson channels them wonderfully into Scott, acting as both catharsis and celebration of his younger days and his father’s remarkable acts of heroism.
Ably supported by the wonderful ensemble (with Apatow, Tomei, Powley and Steve Buscemi all superb), the film is blessed with funny, thoughtful characters that are impossible to dislike and difficult to leave behind and while there are a few bum notes through the film’s slightly longer runtime – with Burr’s Ray not connecting as well as it had seemed early on – the group keeps everything funny and touching.
After all his success with the likes of Seth Rogen and Steve Carell et al, it’s wonderful to see Judd Apatow continuing to try to stretch himself and test the waters in ways that are both surprising and eye-opening. And we say long may it continue.
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2020 | 15 | 14th September 2020 (UK) | Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital HD | Universal Pictures | Dir.Judd Apatow | Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley, Steve Buscemi, Maude Apatow, Bill Burr