| March 6, 2022
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.
| March 6, 2022
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"Netflix, the great disrupter whose algorithms and direct-to-consumer platform have forced powerful media incumbents to rethink their economic models, now seems to need a big strategy change itself. It got me thinking about the simple idea that my film and TV production company Blumhouse is built on: If you give artists a lot of creative freedom and a little money upfront but a big stake in the movie’s or TV show’s commercial success, more often than not the result will be both commercial (the filmmakers are incentivized to make films that will resonate with audiences) and artistically interesting (creative freedom!). This approach has yielded movies as varied as Get Out (made for $4.5 million, with worldwide box office receipts of more than $250 million), Whiplash (made for $3.3 million, winner of three Academy Awards), The Invisible Man (made for $7 million, earned more than $140 million) and Paranormal Activity (made for $15,000, grossed more than $190 million).From the beginning, the most important strategy I used to persuade artists to work with me was to make radically transparent deals: We usually paid the artists (“participants” in Hollywood lingo) the absolute minimum allowable by union contracts upfront, with the promise of healthy bonuses based on actual box office results—instead of the opaque 'percentage points' that artists are usually offered. Anyone can see box office results immediately, so creators don’t quarrel with the payouts. In fact, when it comes time for an artist to collect a bonus based on box office receipts, I email a video clip of myself dropping the check off at FedEx to the recipient."
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