Rated R for being a very Judd Apatow film. There's just a bit more drugs than normal, a bit more sex than normal, a bit more language than normal. When I say "normal", I'm referring to Judd Apatow's standards. What this means for you and me? A lot of drugs, a lot of sex, a lot of language. It's a bleak comedy, so there are going to be some heavy themes throughout. R.
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
The writing process today will be one of sheer willpower. It's not that I don't want to write about The King of Staten Island. It's one of the movies that really sparked joy for me recently and I'd love to talk about it. It's just that it is very early in the morning and I had a baby who didn't sleep so great. Right now, I'm running on post-shower adrenaline, which is going to crash very soon. If I don't get the lion's share of writing done on this thing quickly, the rest of the day will be composed of really short writing stints and constant self-recrimination.
I really worry about Pete Davidson. I mean, I'm sure that a lot of people are worried about Pete Davidson. Normally, I glean all I can from culture news without actively engaging with culture news. But I know that Davidson has had a struggle. He seems to have a really hard life and The King of Staten Island cemented that thought for me. While not a biopic by any stretch of the imagination, Davidson and Apatow have been very forward about the semi-autobiographical nature of the film. A lot of the movie include events that really happened to him. His father, a firefighter, died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Much of Davidson's life involved his personal battles with mental illness and self-worth. The tattoo thing seems pretty on the nose, shy of him working to become a tattoo artist. To make this stuff into a raucous comedy, that takes courage. But what Davidson and Apatow do with The King of Staten Island is what good comedy should do. The film is about turning pain and tragedy into something cathartic.
It's funny, because I think The King of Staten Island will probably be filed under Apatow's more forgettable films. I have yet to see an Apatow film that I didn't like, so please understand that I hold The King of Staten Island in such esteem. It is a glorious film. It actually might be one of his better movies. But it also is such a vulnerable film. Most things that Apatow touches involve some autobiographical elements. He's a guy who puts his heart on the screen and makes you feel like you are one of his buddies. I remember thinking about This is 40 and how dangerous of a film that was. He made a movie about how marriages really take work and he made it funny. But with The King of Staten Island, this is Pete Davidson. We have Judd Apatow's directng aesthetic coupled with the toxicity of Pete Davidson's past. Because one of the major elements of Judd Apatow, despite whatever dangers he's presented on screen, he's always seemed like a pretty healthy guy. His big conflicts involve being lazy and doing drugs. But Scott in Staten Island? That guy could go off at any minute.
Scott has a lot of the same vices that Apatow's other protagonists have. He loves drugs and hanging out with his buddies too much. But when we look at Scott, for the first time there is real pity there. I firmly believe that Scott's comfort zone of drugs and tattoos comes from the fact that he is not mentally prepped for the rigors of the real world. Throughout the film, Scott is juxtaposed to all of these characters who seem to have their lives together. Scott's mom seems to be enabling him (until she doesn't). Ray is a volunteer fireman who is respected by his crew (until we find out more). His dumb little buddies, for their many faults, also seem to have a smidgen more ambition than he does. At least one of them does. The tattoo artist thing at least is a goal. But Scott seems so volatile compared to the rest of Apatow's protagonists. It's hard to imagine Seth Rogen or Paul Rudd flying off the handle when dealing with small problems. It's when Rogen and Rudd hit a low point, that's when the stakes are raised. But Scott in Staten Island has no filter. Small adversities set him off.
And that's why the discovery of the firehouse and the job there is so important. There's a great joke in the film where Scott returns home after working odds-and-ends at the firehouse. His mother full-on belly laughs at him, implying that Scott has no idea what the real world is like despite the fact that he's playing janitor for a fire station . But it is still touching that Scott finds value in this place. Emotionally, the location is charged with memories. But socially, Scott embraces a community that is positive for him. Yeah, the work isn't hard. But he is appreciated there and finds value beyond drugs and laziness. It's not like the drugs and vice stops when he gets there. But he realizes that life is more than just being a stoner. They baby-step him out of his arrested development (I've used this term now two days in a row on my blog) and into the greater world.
I keep posting about movies that have daddy issues. I really am drawn to them. I can't help myself. But Apatow and Davidson really bring up almost something new when it comes to dealing with dead fathers. Scott, while hanging out with a bunch of firemen at a minor league baseball game, confronts the firemen, claiming that being a fireman while having a family is absolutely the worst idea imaginable and is fundamentally selfish. Scott has a real point. I'm not saying this about firemen nor would I begrudge anyone from having a family. But from his perspective, Scott's life has been so polluted by the noble badge of first responder that he can't handle life normally. And again, it is from this low point that Apatow builds catharsis. Scott's argument at the baseball game makes sense. But seeing that his father was a real human being who shared many of Scott's faults while aspiring to something greater is a wonderful message. Note: I love that Steve Buscemi is a volunteer firefighter without being portrayed as his typical weirdo role. What we discover is the glorification of the dead might be worse than the reality of the warts of life.
Scott has always resented his father's choice to be a firefighter because it robbed him of having a dad. In his eyes, Scott's dad was always someone who chose strangers over his own son. Every time that Scott failed to live up to expectations, he could only compare himself to Captain America, which is an impossible comparison. But it is in the stories that he discovers at the fire station that he realizes that you can be a screw-up and a good person at the same time. It is in his father's fallibility that hope is inspired within Scott. I know that Scott's mental health will always be an issue and I don't think that the movie denies that. But what it also allows Scott to see is that whatever he is dealing with isn't going to hamper him from having real ambition. It's an absolutely inspiring story that showed this guy that he has real intrinsic value, despite the fact that the world doesn't find him valuable.
It's a great movie. Apatow has a way of taking these small moments in life and he invites us in. While I probably would never hang out with Scott's crew in real life and I would abhor the way he treated his girlfriend (at least before the final act), they feel like my buddies. I feel bad for them because they are my friends. I'm angry at them because I really believe in them. Once again, Apatow knows how to tell small stories really well. It's a bummer that The King of Staten Island probably didn't penetrate the collective consciousness as much as it should have. But it is a brilliant movie and Apatow at his best.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.