As shocked as I am to be writing this right now, “The King of Staten Island,” is simply fantastic. Surprising I know, but stay with me here. Going in, like most of us, I was expecting a movie who’s best parts were in the trailer. But if you read nothing more of this review, please pay attention to this statement: this film is deep, engaging, accessible, genuinely clever, and funny.
While Saturday Night Live alum Pete Davidson, who both co-penned the script and plays the films lead character, may have written his part to mirror parts of his life, there is good reason for it. “The King of Staten Island” is also painfully autobiographical in the sense that Davidson’s father was in fact a fire fighter and a casualty of the events of September 11th 2001. This tragedy loosely mirrors the experiences of Davidson’s big screen counterpart Scott Carlin who also lost his father in an accident as a fire fighter. Davidsons personal experience with the subject matter helps to add a melancholy to a character that is already rich with complexity. Director Judd Apatow who was also a co-writer, is a master at using a fledgling actors genuine personality to bring life to the characters they portray, while keeping the story line of the fictional character intact. I say fledgling only because Davidson’s portrayal in this film is a stark and incredibly satisfying departure from his SNL musings. In this case Apatow’s ability to walk that wafer thin line was absolutely critical for the success of this film. Apatow as director has once again been able to showcase a comedic actors humanity to the Nth degree. Think Seth Rogen in Knocked Up but more cynical and demure. Almost as if he were to grow up in New York instead of California.
As the film progresses it becomes very clear that each character has a well thought out and quite believable story arc. With the help of star performances from a stellar ensemble supporting cast including Bill Burr, Marissa Tomei, and Steve Buscemi; each one of these story lines is woven in to a single cohesive thread. Each and every secondary story arc contributes logically to the evolution of Davidson’s main character in a natural way that rarely feels scripted. The technical achievements of this film should also not be over looked. The cinematography of academy award winning DP Robert Elswit and the talents of editor Jay Cassidy, were displayed throughout this film. Elswit was able to add tension and beauty to a sometimes difficult subject matter with wonderful use of angles and visual cues, while Cassidy throttled the pacing of the film to coincide with the emotional state of the characters in a given scene. Sound mixer Charles Hunt was also at his best. His nuanced use of sound to heighten the emotional significance of an object or moment is an absolute work of art and deserving of, at the very least, an academy award nomination. While it’s not easy to mix many synthesize sounds together to help guide an audience, It is significantly more difficult to elicit that response in a setting where subtlety is required.
Like most I went in to this film expecting a topical, joke infused romp through Staten Island. But what I got my friends, was a thoughtful, emotional exploration of humanity, who’s unabashed honesty cannot be overstated. Sure it’s funny, but it is so much more than funny. Look for this one to be on everyone’s lips come awards season. I’m Zach Lucas and that’s my take, thanks for reading.
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