NEW YORK (CNS) — The name Judd Apatow is not one that conjures up images of wholesome family entertainment. Nor will his reputation in that regard be much altered by the advent of his latest endeavor as director and co-writer, the slacker comedy “The King of Staten Island” (Universal).
Yet, below the crust of vulgar behavior and language overlying this ultimately moving conversion story, penned with Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus, lies a salute to such fundamentally positive values as the dignity of work, the importance of emotional connection and the heroism of first responders. Even so, Apatow’s depiction of lower-middle-class life in the borough of the title is not fare for the easily offended.
Long-standing “Saturday Night Live” cast member Davidson plays Scott Carlin, an aimless 24-year-old who still lives with his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and whose lack of achievement is only highlighted by his younger sister Claire’s (Maude Apatow) high school graduation and college matriculation. Scott’s sole ambition is a wildly misguided one: to open a combination tattoo parlor and restaurant.
Scott’s inability to break out of his stagnant life of pot smoking and video game playing is rooted in the fact that he has yet to come to terms with the long-ago death of his fireman father. So, when he belatedly discovers that Margie, after 17 years of widowhood, has begun dating another firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr), his reaction is predictably volatile.
Scott and Ray butt heads from the first. And things only get worse after Ray and Margie together decide to administer some tough love by setting a deadline for Scott to move out of the house.
Scott becomes determined to get rid of Ray. The clash that follows, however, has an unexpected result as Scott and Ray eventually find common ground and even manage to bond.
One of the symptoms of Scott’s immaturity is the nature of his relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley), a friend from childhood with whom he’s content to have meaningless sex. She would like to make their physical interaction, which we’re shown in a needlessly graphic interlude, the basis for a romance. But Scott is too emotionally paralyzed for that.
Davidson’s portrayal of Scott is made more poignant by the fact that his father, also named Scott, was a New York City fireman who died trying to rescue victims of the 9/11 attacks. The movie is dedicated to him. While the adult Davidson has proved himself no friend of the Catholic Church in which he was raised, it’s impossible not to sympathize with such a devastating loss in his childhood.
Grown moviegoers willing to wade through much seamy material and be carpet bombed by the F-word will emerge from “The King of Staten Island” enriched by its story of an initially stunted character developing in laudable ways and finding both interior resolution and a place in the world. Perhaps that accomplishment is made all the more impressive by the gritty environment within which it’s gained.
The film contains some violence with gore, a brief but graphic scene of casual sex, implied premarital activity, drug dealing and use, several profanities, a couple of milder oaths, pervasive rough and crude language and obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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