Judd Apatow has shown a certain degree of finesse when it comes to dramedies. Although he’s mostly known for all-out comedic gut-busters, Funny People has been stuck in my mind for ages, just like some of the heavier overarching themes of projects like Trainwreck and Knocked Up. Now he’s at it again with Pete Davidson and Marisa Tomei, an unlikely mother and son duo that works better than you’d expect at first glance.
Like so many dramedies before it, this is a story of arrested development. Pete Davidson’s character as familiar as his simple name: “Scott.” You’ve probably seen Scott before somewhere throughout your life, living at home and unsure of what they need to truly make them happy. Throughout the course of this sometimes overly long two hour and change project, you’ll see him slowly figure things out. That’s the movie.
Some might call Scott a loser, but the writers are careful to ensure that he’s likable and relatable; with the shadow of the death of his father nearly two decades earlier looming over him. Having struggled with depression, Davidson lends some authenticity to the role (and even helped with the script, basing it on an alternative version of his life). Marisa Tomei also has so much experience as an overburdened human being at this point it comes naturally: she’s fantastic.
Like most of Apatow’s films, bright character-driven performances help move things along. Scott eventually gets off his mother’s couch and out into the world, where he meets faces like Steve Buscemi and Pamela Adlon, who do some heavy lifting in the scant few scenes they’re in. Bill Burr, who begins dating Margie, is also equal parts funny and fierce, slipping into some of the more touching moments effortlessly. It’s a very well-rounded cast, which is important in a slice of life journey like King of Staten Island.
But like a lot of modern dramedy flicks, there’s a lot of awkward and cringe moments: some of which are forced to create conflict without style or grace. While Apatow’s other works typically remain focused and shore up the side stories, many of Staten Island’s characters are sidelined or are shamefully forgotten. Its cardinal sin? It has an editing problem.
The King of Staten Island can be incredibly slow and the running time is fairly self-indulgent. But like Funny People, it also gets to the heart of the human condition at times and contains a number of raw performances from some great actors. If you’ve dug any of Apatow’s directorial works in the past, this one is worth a watch.