Those who know of Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live or through exploits in his personal life may or may not know some of the notable details about his life. Pete lost his firefighter father on 9/11, and he has struggled ever since with behavioral and mental issues while attempting to forge a path in comedy. Thanks to some urging from some of his famous, supportive friends, he has channeled his inner turmoil into something positive with his new film, The King of Staten Island. Together with friend and writer Dave Sirus and director Judd Apatow, they have used Pete’s story to create a fictionalized narrative that explores what may have happened if Pete had never found comedy. The inherent darkness of Pete’s story allows Apatow to engage in some more mature themes that have not played as large of a part in his previous films. Whether you love Pete Davidson or you hate him, you might find yourself surprised to find a new side of him in this wonderful dramedy.
Davidson plays Scott, a 24 year old high dropout who finds himself a bit aimless in his life. We first meet Scott on the highway while Kid Cudi’s “Just What I Am” is blaring on the radio and Scott is risking his life by seeing how long he can drive with his eyes closed. The choice of song is perfect, as Cudi has had a well-documented struggle with mental illness and depression. Scott is not trying to kill himself, necessarily, but he also is not doing all he can to stay alive. This simple, terrifying scene tells you so much about the character and reveals why his family indulges his erratic behavior. Scott lives at home with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow, Euphoria), who is on the precipice of heading off to college. Similar to Pete, Scott’s father died when he was young while on the job as a firefighter. Scott spends his days getting high and doing dumb stuff with his friends, when he is not secretly hooking up with childhood friend, Kelsey (Bel Powley, The Morning Show). Kelsey wants something serious with Scott, but his general lack of self-confidence and depression convinces him that she is better off not being dragged down by him. The only hint of ambition that Scott has is his desire to become a tattoo artist, and his drive to actually work towards that appears to be very low.
This all sounds incredibly bleak, but Davidson has an innate, at times manic, presence for which you do want to root. The scenes with his friends are so genuinely hilarious that you become endeared to him. But then you have moments where he cuts you with an unexpected bit of self-analysis that reveals so much about his current mental state that your heart breaks. Scott is a character that we do not see in mainstream comedies very often. The lovable man-child is a long running trope, but having this level of mental illness and depression on display is a truly bold move. One day Scott’s world is turned upside down when his mom starts dating a firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr, F Is For Family), whom she meets in a comically messed up way. Scott wants his mom to be happy and not to be lonely, but his general dislike of Ray along with the similarity to his father is just too much for Scott to handle. When it is suggested that it might be time for Scott to get his act together and move out, he nearly comes undone as he is forced to start growing up. The interplay between Davidson and Burr is fascinating to watch as Scott does everything in his power to break the new couple up. Ray is a recovering dirtbag, and Scott is pushing his buttons to the limit.
The general through line of a Judd Apatow movie is pretty standard from film to film, and this does not really deviate from the formula too much. As someone who typically loves his output, this is not an issue here, especially with the ways in which this subject matter lends itself to more dramatic moments than might be expected. Scott’s path to responsibility and healing his psychological wounds is a moving and hilarious one that finds him confronting multiple obstacles. From turning down his boys during an ill-conceived money making venture to immersing himself in the firehouse culture that took away his father, Scott starts to see certain things in his life in a new light. The firehouse portion is one of the highlights of the film, as we get people like Steve Buscemi dropping nuggets of wisdom in between ridiculous shenanigans. The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow at his most mature as a director. The film is filled with hilarious moments from start to finish, but he is not afraid to embrace the dramatic when the scene calls for it. Apatow continues to be plagued with the curse of his movies running a bit too long, but nothing feels too egregious. You may spend nearly two-and-a-half hours experiencing this character’s journey, but it never really feels lacking in momentum.
This is a film that shines due to its insanely impressive ensemble that brings these characters to life. There is the perfect mix of veteran actors and newcomers to make this feel like a world that really exists. Davidson should also be commended for being so game to reveal personal details that can read as horrifying, but play big either in laughs or emotion. There are ideas presented in this film that most people would not have considered previously, if they have not experienced such a loss. The film really delivers due to its unflinching emotional honesty for these characters. Scott has a lot of growing up to do with this friends, his relationship, and his family, and the movie delicately balances all of these aspects beautifully. The King of Staten Island may not have the jokes-per-minute of some previous Apatow productions, but it still ranks in the upper echelon of his output. By the time you reach the conclusion of this film and start hearing Kid Cudi once more, you may find yourself looking at Davidson and Apatow in a way that you never would have previously. This is destined to be one of the most fulfilling comedies of the year.
The King of Staten Island comes to Blu-Ray with a 1080p presentation that beautifully captures the lovely cinematography of the movie. This is one of the few modern Hollywood movies that was shot on film, so do not confuse the film grain for digital noise. While not released on 4K UHD, this Blu-Ray presentation more than holds its own as it provides detailed, natural skin tones with a very impressive amount of detail in the set design and clothing. The film was shot on location in Staten Island, and the green of the vegetation pops off screen. The black levels hold up pretty well throughout, but they are slightly raised in some instances. Overall, The King of Staten Island looks amazing on Blu-Ray and represents the film as it was intended to be seen.
The film comes to Blu-Ray with solid Dolby Atmos track that handles everything this movie throws at it with ease. As you might expect, there is not a lot of action happening in this movie, but that does not mean there is a lack of activity in all of the channels. The track handles crowd scenes very well with activity coming from the appropriate directions. Music plays an important part of the movie, from the stellar soundtrack that makes a mark at every turn to the hypnotic score that sinks into your brain. All of these elements are balanced well with the dialogue so that nothing feels overpowered. The various bells and horns at the firehouse in the latter part of the movie are appropriately strong in the mix. This is a top-notch audio presentation for a film that would not spring to mind as an audio heavy-hitter.
- Audio Commentary: Director/Co-Writer Judd Apatow and Actor/Co-Writer Pete Davidson provide a commentary remotely from separate locations due to the pandemic in which they discuss Leslie Mann’s influence on the opening of the film, all of the improv in the film, Pete’s real-life grandfather, what Pete chose to take from his life for the film and more. They both have a lot of fun details to share and keep things lively the entire time.
- Alternate Endings (Which Didn’t Work): Two alternate endings to the film are provided, “Family Dinner” and “Career Day”, and they do, in fact, not work completely. They are good scenes, but they don’t leave you on the emotional high of the theatrical ending.
- Deleted Scenes: Ten scenes totaling nearly 16-minutes are provided here that mostly focus on Scott’s friend group and more time with the firehouse crew. In typical Apatow fashion, the film is already massive, so it makes sense why these were cut. They are definitely worth checking out, though.
- Gag Reel: Six-minutes of humorous moments from the set are included here. This is always one of my favorite features, and this one does not disappoint.
- Line-O-Rama: Nearly five-minutes of alternate lines to jokes throughout the film are provided here. There is a lot of gold here that will have you rolling.
- The Kid From Staten Island: A nineteen-minute look at Pete’s life, his relationship to the firehouse, Pete’s suicidal thoughts, his friends and family, using the film as an apology to his family and more.
- Judd Apatow’s Production Diaries: A 32-minute behind the scenes journey with director Judd Apatow that tracks the making of the film from beginning to end. This one is a lot of fun as Judd provides updates from the set, discusses establishing the friend group, shares his experience working with his daughter again and more. There is a fun running gag of Apatow pitching himself to direct a Marvel movie.
- You’re Not My Dad – Working With Bill Burr: A three-minute featurette on Bill Burr in which the cast and crew discuss developing the character, his emotional arc throughout the film, casting Bill in the role, Pete’s real-life relationship with Bill and more.
- Margie Knows Best – Working With Marisa Tomei: A three-minute featurette on Marisa Tomei in which the cast and crew discuss Tomei’s role in the film, her costars experiences with her, Marisa’s relationship with Pete’s mom and more.
- Friends With Benefits – Working With Bel Powley: A four-minute featurette on Bel Powley in which the cast and crew discuss her role, casting her in the film, nailing the accent, the tone of the film and more.
- Sibling Rivalry – Working With Maude Apatow: A nearly five-minute featurette on Maude Apatow in which the cast and crew discuss how Pete’s experiences with his sister influenced the film, the fights they carried over, Maude being a professional, how her character functions differently from others in the film, how the movie impacted Pete’s relationship with his sister and more.
- Best Friends – Working With Ricky, Moises, & Lou: A four-minute featurette on Scott’s friends in which the cast and crew discuss their bond, all of the real-life elements that inspired the characters, each character’s role in the group and more.
- Papa – Working With Steve Buscemi: A three-minute featurette on Steve Buscemi in which the cast and crew discuss working with a legend, Buscemi’s real-life experiences being a firefighter, how his character sets up the emotional turn in the film and more.
- Friends Of Firefighters Stand-Up Benefit: A six-minute overview of a charity stand-up special hosted by Davidson and Apatow with clips from standup sets from the duo, Ricky Velez, Lynne Koplitz and Bill Burr.
- Scott Davidson Tribute: A five-minute tribute to Pete’s real-life father, who lost his life on 9/11. It is quite emotional to hear about him from some of the people who knew him best.
- Official Trailer: A two-and-a-half-minute red band trailer is included that does an excellent job of selling the film.
- Who Is Pete Davidson?: A three-minute examination of Pete as a person and how his story shaped the film.
- The Firehouse: A three-minute featurette on what setting the story in the firehouse means to both Pete and the character, the real-life firefighters in the film, the actors settling into their roles, being respectful to the characters and more.
- Pete’s Casting Recs: A three-minute featurette on all of the talented friends Pete brought to the film that gave it an authenticity that shines through on screen. Pete seems just as concerned at lifting his friends up and he does with making himself successful.
- Pete’s “Poppy” (Grandpa): A two-minute featurette on the experience of Pete’s real life grandfather working on the film. This is a heartwarming addition to the film.
- Video Calls: Four video calls from the COVID-19 era totaling 21-minutes are included here which includes the announcement that the film was coming to VOD, Pete and Judd discussing the trailer, Judd & Pete telling Bill there was no premiere and the duo appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It is really cool they were able to include these, as they are a lot of fun.
The King of Staten Island finds Pete Davidson showcasing a surprisingly heartfelt side of himself that is not typical of the comedian. While the film explores a lot of heavy issues, it never ceases to provide loads of insanely hilarious moments that rival some of the best Judd Apatow comedies. This new film serves as a highlight in the career of both of these talented individuals. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has provided an A+ technical presentation along with more extras than you could ever wish to watch. This is one of the most engaging comedies to come out this year, and you owe it to yourself to check it out if you have not yet. Highly Recommended
The King of Staten Island is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.