Film review: The King of Staten Island (2020), directed by Judd Apatow
tl;dr: A film I didn’t expect to enjoy half as much as I did.
The King of Staten Island is a semi autobiographical comedy drama about a young man called Scott (Pete Davidson) who … well, basically wants to find where he fits into the world. Since his firefighter dad died on the job when Scott was a kid, he has never quite moved on, never quite grown up. Now he’s 24 and unemployed, a high school drop-out with numerous health issues, while his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is going off to college. He has a sometimes girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) but can’t really commit to anything.
Scott’s dream is to open a tattoo parlour/restaurant combo, and he likes to practice his tattoo artist skills on his friends. This eventually leads to a face to face confrontation with an irate parent, Ray (Bill Burr), showing up on the Carlin family doorstep, demanding a bit more than an explanation for what was done to his kid.
Scott’s mum Margie (Marisa Tomei) hasn’t dated since her husband died, and she certainly never planned on falling for another firefighter, and the fact that she starts dating Ray, a firefighter, doesn’t sit right with Scott who tries to get them to break up.
This is a film with a lot of heart. It tackles some deep and difficult subjects, which you probably wouldn’t have expected from “Chad from Saturday Night Live“. Scratch the surface and you find out that this is clearly a very personal subject for Pete Davidson, whose real-life father was also New York firefighter who died on the job. Unlike the hotel fire that claimed the character’s dad, the actor’s dad lost his life, as did the rest of the 118th ladder company, when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.
This is clearly not just a labour of love but it also serves as a tribute to the fire service. Not just in Staten Island, or New York, but everywhere. A lot of thought has gone into the making of this film, trying to make it as authentic as possible in its portrayal of firefighters and the job they’re doing. Retired firefighter John Sorrentino worked as a consultant (and actor!) on this film, and he talks about all the detail they went through while making this film in an episode of Dom’s Den, the podcast hosted by Domenick Lombardozzi, who plays one of the firefighters in the film. They also discuss what it was like to be a firefighter on that fateful day in 2001. It’s incredibly touching to listen to, even if you’ve never set a foot in the US. Can’t recommend it enough.
If you’re sceptical about stand-up comics who turn actors playing a major part in a film? Don’t be. You have nothing to worry about, because Bill Burr is incredible throughout, as is Pete Davidson. Okay, so is everyone else as well, including the child actors!
I’d highly recommend this entire film. It has some moments that are really funny. Some that are heart-warming. Steve Buscemi, who started out as a firefighter before becoming a full time actor, plays a firefighter for the first time in his career. There’s even a cameo from rapper Machine Gun Kelly as a tattoo parlour owner.
A surprising side effect of watching this film? Not just learning more about firefighters, but when we recently found ourselves on a late night walk and came across a small fire that had to be reported … seeing the fire truck pull up? Aside from making you feel giddy like a five-year-old, which might just be a normal reaction to fire trucks, I found I had a new-found appreciation for them thanks to this film. Which is kind of weird, but it’s been a long year.
4 out of 5 fire houses. Will watch again.
P.S. Bill Burr has also been in Dom’s Den! As has chef/rapper/TV host Action Bronson, who plays a minor part in this film. If you don’t have Spotify, you can also follow Dom’s Den on YouTube. (Although the Burr/Bronson episodes aren’t available as videos, at least not at the time of writing.)