[Movie Review] The King of Staten Island

First of all, I wanna make it emphatically clear that it's not pleasant to pay $20 for a 48hr rental.

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First of all, I wanna make it emphatically clear that it's not pleasant to pay $20 for a 48hr rental. It feels unnatural, much like possessing optimism for a Pete Davidson vehicle. I'm fine with paying for digital content but let me own it. What, you want me to pay an additional $20 once you finally come around on letting me own the movie some months from now? You ultimately want the urgency and attention drawn to the movie when it hits. Still, you're disincentivizing viewers with an ultimately unfair deal when you're putting two paywalls behind the same content.

Clearly, The King of Staten Island was meant for theaters, and it's a bummer because comedies are fun to watch with groups of people. But like, even with it hitting VOD, there are still unnecessary hurdles to watch this movie akin to getting dressed and getting in your car to go to the theater. You have to pick *this movie* out of *the entirety of internet, art, and media*, pay the equivalent of *two months of Netflix* to see it as many times as you want for two days, and then either wait for it to hit a streaming service you might already pay for or wait for the opportunity to pay a similar amount to arbitrarily own it in some cloud service that reserves the right to take away that license at any time.

If that sounds stupid, it's because it is, but it might be the future of cinema. Absolutely nobody is going to rent a digital copy of The King of Staten Island a second time the way somebody would pay to see Pineapple Express twice in a movie theater. Heck, I'm only renting it right now at $20 because there's currently a scarcity of new films in 2020, and I'm sure many others will. I wanted to type all that out to underscore the fact that this isn't a sustainable norm, even and especially for the demographic of a film like this.

If you have 3 kids, you can justify a $20 children's film rental better because that's way cheaper than a trip to the movies, whereas $20 is an expensive solo movie ticket, and y'know I cannot really blame you if you don't feel like taking the 2 hour and 17-minute break from YouTube and video games necessary to see The King of Staten Island, and even as someone who enjoyed the movie, I can't really muster up a reason to see this film with any sense of urgency.

And I like Judd Apatow movies! Even though they might be overlong and meandering, often mistaking meaningless plot detours as 'slices of life'. The jokes are often just the greatest hits of an afternoon of improv exclamations from very funny people. Still, sometimes the dumb, ridiculous stuff comedians shout in these movies is really funny, and I like it. There's a reason why so many stupid quotes from these dumb movies ended up on tee shirts at Hot Topic in the late 2000s.

Had The King of Staten Island come out theatrically, would I recommend going to see it? I don't really know. It's a quality-looking film, I can tell you that. Had this movie been a Netflix original or something, I don't think it would've leaned into the darker and more grim color palate that it does. My unsubstantiated belief on this is that Netflix movies look weird and bright because they're more specifically designed to be viewed on mobile devices and not like, a vision being presented in theaters. The darker look in comparison to say Trainwreck or This Is 40 is probably meant to match the darker subject matter of the film, like Davidson's character; aimless 24-year-old tattoo artist Scott dealing with suicide ideation and the impact of his father's death, who died fighting a fire but is obviously based on Davidson's IRL grief.

When Scott is hanging out in the basement smoking pot with his friends, it feels akin to the scenes with Rogen and the cast of Knocked Up. The supporting characters similarly rounded and humorous, but in Staten Island, the gravity of the aimlessness is felt way more and acknowledged passionately by the forces in Scott's life that want to change.

Since Freaks and Geeks, Judd Apatow has had some hand the best and most intensely popular comedies of the last twenty years. The films he helms often carry some emotional heft, and this film is no different. In fact, it's probably the most dramatic and dark, but its most emotionally charged scenes feel random and unearned. Conflicts come off just as ridiculous as the antics that preceded them, so their resolutions don't equate to marked character growth.

Apatow films are all about stunted adults being thrust into adulthood, but at 24, Pete Davidson plays his youngest protagonist. More importantly, he's the first protagonist that has grown up with and has been directly influenced by a pop culture Apatow personally had a hand in, so it feels like something of a missed opportunity. It'd be kind of like Spielberg not acknowledging his role in the nerd culture celebrated in Ready Player One.

Scott is played as inept and depressed, but his criticisms of the world around him and their circumstances aren't directly invalidated nor entirely his fault. And while grief is processed and growth is made, it doesn't really amount to adulthood responsibility in the classic Judd Apatow sense. What's enough, it seems, is simply the capacity to continue after trauma.

Previously, Judd Apatow films were late coming-of-age blockbuster cushioned by frat humor. There's a lot to like in this movie (the cast is fantastic, even with Davidson's aggressive unlikability), and no one expects it to be a masterpiece. But there isn't enough to keep the memory of this film from expiring as quickly as the $20 2 day rental of it as opposed to say, a dorm room copy of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and I'm just saying that's not because of how it's being released.

The King of Staten Island - 3.5/5


Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta. When he’s not churning out internet content, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets weeks in advance. Feel free to validate him on Twitter (@TylerScruggs), Instagram (@Scruggernaut), and YouTube.

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