Streaming Releases: The King of Staten Island.... Is Worth The Paywall

photos courtesy Universal Pictures

The King of Staten Island
opens up as it should, with a reflection of Pete Davidson’s eyes, looking in the rearview mirror. For those of us with mental disorders, we spend a lot time looking in the proverbial rearview mirror, and like Scott Carlin (Davidson’s character), we wonder what it might be like to close our eyes to the world around us, consequences be damned.

As Scott is speeding along in his car, eyes closed, he’s heading into near death accompanied by the tunes of Kid Cudi, more specifically, [the] “Pursuit of Happiness”, a quest that often drives many of us into misery. This isn’t the only time the soundtrack is apropos to the plot, but it’s a damn good way to introduce us my favorite semi-autobiographical film since 8 Mile and my favorite dramedy about mental health since Silver Linings Playbook.

The King of Staten Island is the story of a man-child. We’ve seen this before in Failure to Launch, Garden State, et. al., but there’s a bit more curiosity at stake in this as those of us who know a little about Davidson know that this might be a peek inside his psyche, the one damaged by his dead father, a 9/11 first responder. Just as 8 MIle piqued our curiosity about a mercurial Marshall Mathers rising towards the top of the rap game, The King of Staten Island begs to give us answers as to whether the tragic death of his father tempered Davidson’s fast start in comedy. Davidson frequently talks about his mental struggles and the death of his father in his comedy; given that The King of Staten Island is almost entirely based off the premise of his childhood, this seems like the Pete Davidson mother lode, for those enthusiastic about his work.

Aside from Davidson, The King of Staten Island is buttressed with great performances by Bill Burr and Marisa Tomei. Burr, his casting alone seems to be the “get off my lawn” type posted against Davidson’s “lazy hipster” aesthetic. The plot reveals the contrast to be partly true, but there’s so much more than that. Tomei’s role as the mother is multifaceted as well, befitting for an analogue of Davidson’s real life mother, who lives with her celebrity son in a house on Staten Island.

The title of the movie, “The King of Staten Island” implies that place is very central to the film, and while that appears so, at least momentarily, in a Garden State, East Coast angst sort of way, the initially-ironic, yet tragic, and metaphorical use of the term, “king”, is even more important. “King” is a metaphor for a male figure with an abundance of agency, precisely the opposite of Scott Carlin. While Carlin (Davidson) is ineptly gallivanting in his realm of “the forgotten borough” of New York City, the people around him are going mad, waiting for him to grow up.

As Carlin undergoes his transformation into a more mature version of himself, The King of Staten Island has us laugh, empathize, and vibe in a way that won’t have us looking in the proverbial rearview mirror for the almost twenty dollars we clicked away for it.

Blake Pynnonen