Those who have come to know Pete Davidson as a cast member for Saturday Night Live, already know his back story. When Pete was seven, his father, Scott, a New York City firefighter died on 9/11. He was last seen climbing the stairs of the Marriott World Trade Center before the building collapsed. Losing his dad at such a young age affected Pete, something he has talked about quite openly.
That loss figures prominently in Davidson’s new partly autobiographical film, The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow. Davidson and Apatow have a back story, too. Appearing in Apatow’s comedy, Trainwreck, which starred Amy Schumer, Davidson came to the attention of co-star Bill Hader, who recommended Davidson to SNL’s creator and producer, Lorne Michaels. Davidson, at 20, became one of the youngest, and most popular, stars on the NBC late night show.
It seems natural that Apatow should not only direct but co-write the script for The King of Staten Island. Although he now lives in Los Angeles, Apatow was born in Queens and grew up on Long Island. He understands New Yorkers. While there are several funny moments in the film, this is not a laugh out loud comedy that we have come to expect from Apatow. Instead we get a portrait of a young man still coming to terms with his father’s death.
Davidson’s character, aptly named Scott, is in his twenties and still living at home with his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and sister, Claire (Maude Apatow). His goal is to open a combination tattoo parlor/restaurant, something few believe is a good idea. When he’s not hanging out with his direction-less friends, he’s practicing his tattoo skills, including on a nine year-old boy, whose angry father, Ray (Bill Burr), shows up at Scott’s home. What starts as a confrontation between Ray and Margie soon morphs into a relationship, much to Scott’s dismay. The last thing Scott wants is for his mother to become involved with another firefighter.
Now that Claire is in college, Margie wants Scott to move out, too. Scott has a relationship of convenience with his girlfriend, Kelsey (Bel Powley), seeking her out when he wants sex. For the most part, she puts up with him, but when she finds out he’s shown up at her home because he has no place to live, she reaches a breaking point.
Scott ends up at Ray’s firehouse. Being with men who were like his father, eager to share stories about him, gives Scott a new perspective. What he learns takes him a few steps down the path to dealing with his grief, a process that will take time.
The supporting cast is terrific, but Davidson is the film’s heart and soul. This is a breakout performance that shows that he’s not just a comedian, but a talented actor, too. Perhaps he’s playing himself, but being brave enough to put it all out there, and not in a way that is maudlin, but genuine, shows he’s not afraid to confront his own demons. Anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one, and so many are these days, will be touched by Davidson’s story.
Top photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
The King of Staten Island is now streaming on Amazon Prime.