| November 26, 2020
This movie should have been called, “The Non-Graduate.” That’s what it is… a 2020 take on another era’s Ben Braddock. There is no Mrs. Robinson, because the faux stability of the suburban household is long gone. The closest we get to that character is the ex of our hero’s mother’s romantic interest… who our hero doesn’t sleep with, but through whom our hero gathers nasty intel on his assumed rival.
To extend the comparison, The Graduate focuses on a child of privilege who comes home from university to a malaise of comfortable inaction. Plastics. He acts out in the most violent way of which he is capable, having an affair with the wife of his parents’ close couple-friends, all the while pining for the pure romance of her daughter.
None of this fits The King of Staten Island, because Pete Davidson’s Scott Carlin is already destroyed at the start of the movie. His mother is a widow. He is already self-destructive. He, like Ben Braddock, has settled into the place where he is comfortable and unchallenged. Ben was floating in the pool, tanning. Scott is sitting in his basement, getting baked.
Scott’s ambition is to get through the day, the hour, the minute. He’s not okay. But he’s not looking to go anywhere. Even his sex life is barely a tick beyond complete passivity.
The firehouse his father passed away as part of is his Elaine in this telling of the story. It is profoundly connected to his pain, but it is also the place where he could find a reason to start living again.
Davidson co-wrote the film (with SNL writer Dave Sirus) based on his own story and Judd Apatow directed it. This is not your expected Judd Apatow movie either. It’s his darkest work, a smidgeon more so than Funny People.
The thing about the Apatow-directed titles is that there are usually a bunch of pals, hanging around playing videogames and smoking pot. And those pals are in this film too. But unlike previous JuddFilms, they aren’t used for comic respite here. And aren’t benign. Yet he and the writers don’t scapegoat them either. The movie is not about getting away from his people to save himself. It’s not that movie either. Every time you think you see the easy out coming, they go somewhere else.
The character that is Pete Davidson, Scott, doesn’t get easy redeeming moments, yet he is consistent through the picture. He is never not a decent human, even though he does some dumb stuff. So it is not a journey of miles, but of inches (like The Graduate).
I won’t get into spoilers. The other actors are good, though Bill Burr as a sex object was not on my to-do list for this lifetime. Bel Powley is perfectly real. Marisa Tomei tones down her charms enough to play a subtle parental role. Maude Apatow is building a fine resume (still not over her having children on Hollywood). There are a lot of bigger-role actors doing small parts and they underplay and aren’t trying to steal scenes that they could steal. And my favorite surprise was Robert Smigel as… not Triumph! See if you can spot his shot.
There is a dark charm to this film and to Davidson that is winning in an unexpected way. Apatow has become masterful at bringing out the very specific personalities of comics, like Amy Schumer, Pete Holmes, and in death, with his poetic, cinematic doc, Garry Shandling.
I understand why this film is on VOD this week, as it is a difficult sell. The SXSW premiere and the hip audience the festival has delivered for Universal most of the last decade could have helped the studio marketing team figure it out. But it’s not the Apatow movie you expected. It’s not the Pete Davidson movie you expected. Selling a lovely small film about a young man’s journey to peace with himself isn’t easy. “Sandler on coke” is a lot easier (though that was heavy lifting and A24 did a great job).
In many ways, “Pete Davidson on coke” would have been easier, too. A comic mockumentary about him being emotionally disconnected and a parade of starlets, young and not-so-young lining up to see if the rumors about his penis are true would be a much easier sell. Because that is what the media created. Who the hell knows what is true?
This is the second time I have been surprised by Davidson. His stand-up special on Netflix (Alive From New York) blew me away in a way I never saw coming. He wasn’t distant. He wasn’t full of shit. And he was not without feelings. He isn’t the most skilled stand-up. He isn’t super-smooth. But he is raw and from that rawness comes great humor. And he makes it seem a lot more casual than I believe it was.
I don’t know where Pete Davidson will go next. I hope somewhere happier for himself. But this is a fine marker of a young man, not afraid to go where he knows he must. For Apatow, there is a level on which he has been working — coincidentally or not — since he returned to stand-up. (Will Ferrell, by the way, has a terrific new piece coming to Netflix in a few weeks… classic Ferrell… but not Judd’s — or Adam’s — thing anymore. Unexpected roads.)
Whatever the delivery system, I am happy this film exists and that people will see it. I look forward to seeing it again.
| November 26, 2020
| November 24, 2020
| November 18, 2020
Owen Gleiberman Takes A While To Approach A Point About All Writers, Which, To These Eyes, Is Perhaps That Even The Most Discursive And The Most Prolix And The Most Enervating Among Us (Close And, Yes, Also Far Away), Are Deserving Of An Editor, One Who Is Not A Friend, But One Who Is Still Kind And Stern: "But not really. Because even once you accept that Orson Welles did deserve the co-screenplay credit for Citizen Kane, there’s a question that lingers, and it’s the mystery that I think Kael tried (unsuccessfully) to poke at. Kael’s essay, among other things, was a kind of backhanded meditation on the inner meaning of what a screenplay is. And the reason that question creates such an endless conundrum when we think of Citizen Kane is that Kane was the Hollywood movie that changed the answer to it. If you believe, as I do, that Kane is the greatest movie to have come out of classic Hollywood, and maybe the greatest movie ever made, and then you ask, “Okay, but why is it the greatest movie?,” the answer is 50 reasons at once — the visionary excitement of it, the through-a-snow-globe-darkly gothic majesty of it, the joyous acting and grand brooding cinematography, the hypnotic structure, the playfulness, the doomy haunting mythology of Rosebud, and on and on and on. The pleasures and profundity of Kane are right there on the surface, and infinitely deep beneath the surface."
| November 29, 2020
| November 28, 2020
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019