Inspired in-part by his own real-life trauma, comedian Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live) crafted a story in partnership with director Judd Apatow (This is 40) and writer/producer Dave Sirus that presents a fictional tale of heartache, profound pain, and, ultimately, much needed healing in The King of Staten Island. Given that much of Staten Island is populated by well-known humorists or those with a history of comedic performances, audiences may expect something lighter, something silly, or, perhaps, something which uses pain as a catalyst for hijinks. This is not that film. Instead, Staten Island is profoundly personal, dark, and unfettered in a way that makes the audience confront their own pain, the kind that they may not realize they inflict on others. With The King of Staten Island hitting home release, Apatow has loaded it with nearly three hours of bonus materials, enabling the audience to get a deeper look at both the production of the film and just how personal the story dares to go.
Scott Carlin (Davidson) is a 24-year-old who spends his days with his four best friends playing games and getting high. While his sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is preparing to leave home for college, Scott’s firmly nestled at home with their mother Margie (Marisa Tomei), constantly dreaming of opening his own hybrid tattoo parlor/restaurant, Ruby Tattusesday, despite dropping out of art school. Though Scott does possess ADHD, Crohn’s disease, and depression, the majority of his resistance to life stems from the death of his firefighter father, Stan, who died on the job when Scott was a boy. After years of not addressing it, Scott, Margie, and Claire are forced to confront their own individual hurt and Scott’s destructive behavior when Margie begins to date Ray (Bill Burr), a local firefighter.
With the exception of Saturday Night Live and his accidental inception of BDE in 2018, there’s not much I’ve known or cared to know about Pete Davidson. It’s not a personal thing, but I’ve just never been exposed to his stand-up or seen his work beyond SNL and Apatow’s Trainwreck (2015). The King of Staten Island changes everything. His performance as Scott is entirely raw, so much so that you’ll spend the majority of the movie in a state of slight distaste for Scott as each decision he makes is entirely self-destructive, consciously made or not. His use of self-deprecation and provocative language makes him entirely toxic and, for the most part, he recognizes this in himself, yet he seems compulsively unable to make a different choice. Because of this, the 137-minute runtime suggests a slog, yet it’s entirely the opposite. Not only does Davidson mesmerize, the story he’s created with Apatow and Sirus possesses the kind of momentum which makes audiences ignorant of length as they find themselves immersed in the world the filmmakers create. Take the opening moments of the film which show Davidson’s Scott driving on the interstate as he listens to the radio. It’s a simple introductory scene which quickly becomes filled with emotional weight as Scott closes his eyes, the camera holding on him driving blind for an extended period. It’s a shocker of an opening that immediately sets a strange dread over what’s to come as the audience suddenly understands just how profoundly broken Scott is. Overtime, though, they eventually get to know him better and see his harmless jester-like behavior. As the title appears next to Scott, apologizing profusely to the other drivers on the road, the audience is keyed-in that the “King” of the title is not so literal, but one of psychological despondency.
This is perhaps why some who watched Staten Island in its original VOD release may have come away a tad salty from the experience. You’ve got renowned comedic director Apatow directing and Davidson, mostly known for his comedic work, in a film which is, by and large, a character-focused drama. The comedy in it is mostly hilarious, but it’s not jokes so much as a reaction to situations. Many of the situations themselves, not funny. In one of the scenes early in the film and used in the marketing, Scott’s friends explain to a newbie how his father died and they all laugh about it. It’s not something that’s funny at all and, visible to anyone paying attention to Scott, it’s not funny to him either. Yet, within the surreal moment, you’ll laugh, too. The story takes great pains to highlight that Staten Island is an exploration of trauma and how those who remain afterwards are changed in ways few can relate. Davidson’s Scott and Tomei’s Margie developed an unhealthy attachment to one another where their grief bonded them in ways that creates constant friction. When the characters engage each other, the audience is never certain which one will set off the other, but it’s clear that the bulk of the ferocity comes from Scott’s inability to properly grieve the loss of his father. This, again, goes back to the wonderful script which takes the time to explore the characters so that each one is given a journey by which to grow, a script which this cast absolutely elevates via performances that never outperform anyone else, giving the totality of Staten Island a true ensemble feel, even though the focus is on Davidson. Everyone is given a natural moment to make an impression without impugning the film’s natural rhythm.
What’s particularly interesting, and this plays into the personal nature of Staten Island, is how those who enjoy the film, but are unaware of its loosely-true origins, can explore all of it via the bonus features. Unlike other recent home releases, the bonus materials for Staten Island are almost a feature unto themselves and are certainly a reason for fans of the film to purchase this release. Not only do you get to check out two alternative endings (thank you Maude Apatow for setting your Dad straight), deleted scenes, and a gag reel, Apatow and company do something many do not: put a highlight featurette together for the rest of the cast. Over the course of six different featurettes, audiences explore the various perspectives of Tomei, Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, the actors making up Scott’s friends, Steve Buscemi, and Davidson’s actual grandfather, Stephen Davidson. Considering that much of the cast are close with Davidson, these brief featurettes enable the audience to understand not only their individual responses to their roles, but also offer insight into how the production helped each of them understand Davidson more clearly. Given the obvious trauma of losing his father at a young age, instead of dancing around it, the featurettes often cut straight to it in the same blunt yet empathic manner of the film itself. The bonus features also include a lovely tribute to Davidson’s father, Scott Davidson, a brief portion of the Friends of Firefighters Stand-Up Benefit that Apatow and Davidson hosted during filming, and quite a bit more. If The King of Staten Island moved you, be warned to keep the tissues handy as you explore the quality materials included with all three versions of the home release.
The King of Staten Island Bonus Features
- Two (2) Alternative Endings (Which Didn’t Work!) (3:57)
- Ten (10) Deleted Scenes (16:21)
- Gag Reel (5:54)
- Line-O-Rama (4:37)
- The Kid From Staten Island – Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow sit down for a discussion about the movie, their experiences working together, and what it meant to film a movie inspired by Pete’s life. Also hear from Pete’s family, friends, and cast members who shed more light on the kid from Staten Island. (19:04)
- Judd Apatow’s Production Diaries – Director Judd Apatow speaks to camera, giving the daily “scoop” on set and discussing the scenes at hand. (31:44)
- You’re Not My Dad: Working with Bill Burr – Judd Apatow discusses how Bill Burr was perfect for the role of “Ray Bishop” while Bill discusses his favorite moments acting alongside Pete Davidson and the meaningful relationship that their characters form. (4:42)
- Margie Knows Best: Working with Marisa Tomei – Judd Apatow describes the honor he had of working with Marisa Tomei who plays Pete Davidson’s fictional mom “Margie.” Pete, his mom Amy Davidson, and other cast and crew also describe their amazement at Marisa’s ability to nail the role and the joy of having her on set. (3:22)
- Friends with Benefits: Working with Bel Powley – Bel Powley describes her friendship with Pete Davidson, getting the role of “Kelsey” in the film, and what it was like navigating her character’s push and pull relationship with “Scott.” (3:54)
- Sibling Rivalry: Working with Maude Apatow – Maude Apatow discusses what it was like playing “Claire,” a character based on Pete Davidson’s real sister. Also, Pete and Judd Apatow discuss the real elements of the brother/sister relationship that are reflected in the movie. (4:36)
- Best Friends: Working with Ricky, Moises, & Lou – Ricky Velez, Moises Arias, and Lou Wilson discuss their characters, the chemistry of Scott’s “best friend” group, and what it was like working with each other on set. (3:56)
- Papa: Working with Steve Buscemi – Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, and filmmakers reveal why Steve Buscemi was the perfect man for the part of “Papa,” and discuss the integral role his character plays in the film. (2:52)
- Friends of Firefighters Stand-Up Benefit – Watch the benefit comedy show—featuring Bill Burr, Ricky Velez, and Lynne Koplitz—that Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson hosted while filming The King of Staten Island. All proceeds went to the Friends of Firefighters organization. (6:20)
- Scott Davidson Tribute – Scott Davidson was a member of the FDNY and was tragically lost on September 11th, 2001. Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson and his family, plus former friends and co-workers of Scott, share stories in honor of the man they knew. (5:28)
- The King of Staten Island Official Trailer (2:22)
- Who Is Pete Davidson? – Pete Davidson’s family, friends, and the filmmakers discuss their hopes of what will come from the release of The King of Staten Island, while Pete and Judd share why it was so important to Pete to make this film. (3:30)
- The Firehouse – Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson discuss what it was like shooting scenes in a real firehouse and the responsibility they felt to capture the environment authentically. (3:20)
- Pete’s Casting Recs – Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson discuss how Pete’s decision to cast a large group of his friends was beneficial to achieving the goal of the movie. Plus, Pete’s friends discuss their relationships with Pete and their experiences working on the film. (3:00)
- Pete’s “Poppy” (Grandpa) – Judd Apatow shares his experiences directing Pete Davidson’s grandfather in his acting debut. (1:54)
- Video Calls (21:00)
- Feature Commentary with director/co-writer Judd Apatow and Actor/co-writer Pete Davidson (2:17:15)
Available on digital beginning August 11th, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning August 25th, 2020.
For more information, head to the official The King of Staten Island website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.