The King of Staten Island is a comedy/drama about a go-nowhere kid stuck in stasis after the death of his father, and the destructive trail he leaves in his path because he can't deal with it. When another fireman swoops in on his mom, it becomes time to deal with all of those repressed emotions and embrace a new future.
Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is a pot-smoking slacker with mild aspirations to become a tattoo artist someday, but content to spend the majority of his time hanging out with his friends. Though able to joke about the tattoo on his arm that bears the date that his firefighter dad died, he is aware that he has issues he needs to deal with.
When his celebrated sister Claire (Maude Apatow) goes off to college, and his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) finds a new love interest in Ray (Bill Burr), another firefighter, Scott realizes it's time to invest in himself and change something when it becomes apparent that he's the only one getting left behind.
While trying to bond with Ray, Scott learns more about the kind of man his father was, and it leads him to a new sense of appreciation for humanity. Meanwhile, he tries to navigate a strained relationship with his girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) who wants more than a secret relationship for the rest of their lives.
Writer/director Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, Knocked Up) once again delivers his hyper-realistic stoner-comedy genre that has perfected over the years. While there is nothing bad about this work, experiencing another one of his movies feels like ordering a certain dish at a restaurant because it's a decent, safe choice. The characters are so familiar it feels like coming home for a visit, which can be both a strength and a weakness.
Co-writer Davidson is not the first Saturday Night Live alum to branch into film as a man-child, but he takes this comedic role very seriously. Despite his own inability to play anyone other than himself, his story and presence are interesting enough to hold attention, while the people interacting with him are consistently funny.
With no clear direction, the overly developed heart of this movie flounders, seemingly trying too hard to prove that it's not just a silly comedy, which might have been a better direction for the film. But the organic laughter is there, and it's seldom at the expense of others. The drama is solid as well, providing a backbone for a storyline that offers up no surprises.
Any main character without strong convictions is a recipe for story disaster, yet The King of Staten Island pulls off enough interesting cameos, jokes, and side characters to make it work, though barely. Ultimately, a yawn-inducing run time is constantly broken up with sprinkles of magic. One-liners and awkward humor liven up this somber piece which cannot quite nail what it's trying to say, though has a lot of fun on its way nowhere.