“The King of Staten Island” Review: Pete Davidson is More than a Comedian

By Stephanie Swart, Photo Editor

After years of quality, yet repetitive work, Pete Davidson makes his frontman debut in his semi-autobiographical film, The King of Staten Island. Davidson’s performance is one I predict will serve as a pivotal moment in his career.

Davidson, 26, joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, a NBC late night comedy sketch show, at the age of 20. As one of the youngest cast members in history, his sketch characters remain in the realm of unbothered millennials. His most consistent role is on the news sketch, Weekend Update, where he portrays himself. His unforced comfortability playing himself and getting dangerously close to crossing the line with his humor radiates in his other roles on SNL as well as in his starring role in The King of Staten Island.

Pete Davidson, fellow comedian David Sirus, film director Judd Apatow, co-wrote the script for The King of Staten Island. Based on Davidson’s and Apatow’s filmography, a first glance at the cast and crew may lead one to expect a goofy comedy. However, there is an all-too-real dimension to the film. The script aligns with realities of Davidson’s life growing up in Staten Island, but it also incorporates fictional aspects to enhance its dramatization. The film follows Davidson’s character, Scott Carlin, as he navigates living at home with his widowed mother in Staten Island as a high school dropout and aspiring tattoo artist who is scared of commitment. His character also struggles with the loss of his firefighter father, who died while saving lives in a burning building. This key component of the storyline reflects the tragedy of Davidson’s father, who lost his life when he responded to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Scott Carlin struggles to cope with his father’s death, especially when his mother starts to date none other than a local firefighter. The dynamic relationship between Carlin and his mother’s boyfriend (Bill Burr) motivates the film’s storyline of Davidson’s character finding himself. The viewer witnesses the evolution of Davidson’s character as he finally allows the trauma floodgates to open. He embraces firefighting instead of loathing what it did to his father.

The film seamlessly incorporates the emotional layers of Davidson’s childhood trauma and current dealings with mental illness. There is a further enhancement to this autobiography, as a few of Davidson’s real-life friends and family appear throughout the film. Watching Davidson play himself both in SNL and in this film would lead one to believe there was no script at all. It is as if you are watching a day in the life of Pete Davidson.
His range in this film is unlike any of his past work; he breaks your heart and makes you laugh all in one take. A scene that stood out to me all three of the times I watched the film was the moment in which his mother tells him she is dating someone for the first time since her husband’s passing. When Davidson’s character is first unaware of the boyfriend’s identity, he is thrilled and supportive. He cracks jokes until his mother further explains that her boyfriend is a firefighter. This moment consists of a full range of emotions. Following his giddiness, the news of the boyfriend’s occupation sends Davidson’s character into a frenzy. He feels as though this is an emotional punishment to bring another firefighter into his life. He questions his mother with, “What are you trying to do to me? Haven’t I been through enough?” Following his rage, he profusely asks his mother what he did wrong and then apologizes over and over as he turns child-like. I had never seen Davidson in this emotionally demanding of a scene before. This was the moment I knew that The King of Staten Island is just the beginning of his film career, and we need to get ready to see more of Pete Davidson on the big screen.

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