| August 3, 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.
| August 3, 2020
| July 23, 2020
| July 14, 2020
"There is, of course, an eerie prescience to She Dies Tomorrow, not just in its depiction of a pandemic (however absurd this particular one may be) but also in its bleak, spellbinding solitude; an existential plague, it turns out, is almost as effective as our current, real-life one in alienating us from each other."
| August 9, 2020
| August 9, 2020
The Ross Brothers: "There’s not one film of Altman’s that we don’t like, but Nashville is the holy grail. When we first saw it, we were so blown away that a film could feel so natural and lived in, and that influenced the way we thought about movies and made them from then on. On the surface it feels like just a bunch of interconnected moments, but a deeper reading shows that it’s about the fatality of America. Then there’s the editing, the use of sound, and the curious camera, which seems to be wandering, making us privy to every conversation it’s focused on. If we were ranking Altman films, this would be one through ten."
August 9, 2020
Max Richter: "Throughout my 20s and 30s I worked constantly. Weekends were nonexistent; I worked on multiple paid jobs to support my own creative projects. Now I have the luxury of taking this time off, I’m religious about protecting my weekends. Our lives are data-saturated.It’s psychologically demanding to live on screens 24/7. Sundays are for switching off. I treasure the time for recuperation."
| August 9, 2020
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019