'The King of Staten Island' Review: Autopilot Apatow

Judd Apatow made 40 Year Old Virgin fifteen years ago, followed it up with Knocked Up, and then Funny People; all of these are about immature white men stuck in arrested development living out a perpetual adolescence and then through some contrived plot point are forced to change their ways, grow up, become responsible adults, and prove to the ‘girl of their dreams’ that they are no longer children, but indeed real men. By 2010 this type of film was becoming so trite that it was even satirized in the Duplass Brothers’ dark comedy Cyrus where the man-child archetype is pushed to its extremes. In the film, Cyrus (Jonah Hill) having a full-on oedipal obsession with his mother (Marisa Tomei), does everything possible to sabotage her romantic life and actively terrorizes her well-meaning boyfriend (John C. Reilly). 

What makes The King of Staten Island so infuriating is that much like his favorite characters Apatow is firmly stuck in arrested development himself by making a film that feels dated from the get-go and even includes the obnoxious choice of recycling Marisa Tomei’s role of an exasperated mother from Cyrus. Meanwhile, Pete Davidson, perhaps the avatar of the mediocre white guy falling upwards, lacks whatever charm and charisma you would get from a Steve Carrell, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jason Siegel, or anyone from a seemingly infinite laundry list of white male comedians who have played this exact man-child role before. 

The King of Staten Island (dir. Judd Apatow, 2020)

The film opens with an embarrassing shot of Pete Davidson scrunching his face in grief like he’s got brain-freeze and just gets worse from there. Bill Burr is serviceable here as the firefighter surrogate father, though you’d have to forget his long stand-up bit about how women sometimes deserve abuse to be able to enjoy seeing his asshole mug grace the screen. Meanwhile, Staten Island itself, a presumed subject of interest gets nothing more than lip service. Instead, the film careens into a maudlin and propagandistic homage to the fire department that makes the cringe-inducing ‘you don’t mess with New York!’ bridge scene in the first Spiderman look sophisticated by comparison.

If Apatow wasn’t asleep at the wheel this movie could have been is a tender love story about Marisa Tomei. All you have to do is remove Davidson entirely and make Steve Buscemi, who makes a brief appearance, the love interest instead, as they are the only two bright spots here. Unfortunately, most of the air is sucked out of the room by Davidson’s aggravating shtick, and the cloyingly sentimental montages of him folding flags outside of the fire station. Davidson who is neither particularly funny nor charming continues to embody the very worst of an industry that loves to reward white mediocrity. Apatow, not far behind as far as mediocre Hollywood figures go, might be the king of making insufferable man-children likable, but it would take a miracle to make this work.

The Ten Best Films of 2020​

With 2020 finally drawing to a close, lets take one last look at the wonderful films that came out in this otherwise devastating year.