Pete Davidson is The King of Staten Island, and the state of New York is certainly worse for it. Yet another Judd Apatow movie about an overgrown man-child where a comedian essentially plays himself, Pete Davidson is certainly convincing as a 25-year-old stoner who still hasn’t grown up. A semi-autobiographical slacker comedy about the lead actor, it’s a spiraling, unfinished mess that feels like it was made by its stoner ensemble while high, because it certainly isn’t engaging without being under the influence.
The overlong run time is particularly egregious here, with nearly 150 minutes of meandering, yet never cleaning up plenty of unresolved side stories that are introduced. Scott (Pete Davidson) continues to get into wild antics of a boy much younger than himself, and struggles to learn from any of it. He offers to tattoo a young boy in the park, tries to sabotage his mother’s relationships, and hardly is there for his girlfriend (Bel Powley, one of few bright spots in the film). He is a man child to the highest degree, and despite having many lows in the lengthy run of the film, he never quite learns anything. Scott is a less interesting version of Davidson, not quite famous yet, father died in a less notable way, and no comedy skills to show for himself, only his directionless stoner life and the occasional mediocre tattoo work done.
While Davidson doesn’t do much outside of playing himself, and his character would be far better served as a secondary player here, some solid performances make the film bearable at times. Marisa Tomei as the twenty-something’s mother gives a warm, familiar performance, and last year’s Monos breakout Moises Arias is the best performance out of Scott’s slacker friends. Maude Apatow’s casting as Scott’s sister, while nepotistic, is a welcome one. She is a solid foil, with her overachieving highlighting how Scott really will do anything for attention.
Making comedy out of depression is tough, and here it is certainly not a success. All serious moments feel so tonally dissonant, the film is essentially self-mockery. It’s hard to take anyone seriously when a violent robbery is given just as much weight as every hangout session. Scott and his friends are so unlikeable, fully adult and spewing childish ideas and wild misconceptions without a hint of self awareness, that it’s near impossible to pity them when things go wrong. They plan to open a tattoo parlor restaurant, nearly revel in getting STDs, and make everyone else’s lives around them more difficult, and it’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to hate these privileged Staten Island kids with nothing holding them back from their self-indulgent chaos, or if it’s a failed attempt to learn from them.
What makes King of Staten Island fail at what Trainwreck got right is how Davidson often seems to be playing an outsider’s idea of himself. Amy Schumer’s role in the writing of Trainwreck gives its confessional elements some weight, while Davidson just feels like a cartoonish version of his own struggles. A rare celebrity more famous for being famous than for why, Davidson is painfully unfunny at times, and for a film that’s supposed to make an audience love him, it seems to be hitting a home run for the opposite. Despite being the youngest SNL cast member, he only manages to be part of a well-oiled machine here, if the machine’s goal is to create the most annoying $20 spent on a video rental.
Apatow and Davidson have managed the feat of creating the singular most SXSW movie possible. Even the feeling of a stuffy theater after a few beers is replicated at home without need for either, as the film drags on in a blurry haze of incoherency similar to drunkenly overheating. Those already not a fan of Davidson’s breed of never-grow-up stoner Lost Boy humor should steer far away, and anyone else not a die-hard fan should stick to Hulu’s Big Time Adolescence, a film that at least tries to find its heart through the cloud of weed smoke. If the trailer didn’t sell the film, the premium rental price and slow-cinema length runtime aren’t worth it for the limited payoff.