Scott Carlin has known for eight years what his purpose in life is: tattooing. Then he was sixteen and began to maltreat his own skin. Now the lean torso of the mid-twenties has become a show of his passion, but one has to say that it is a rather unfortunate love. Scott’s plan to open a tattoo restaurant together with three Slacker friends, in which the dining guests are supposed to get even more bloody meat than just on the plate, fails to recognize his own ability. The young man is notorious at Staten Island tattoo studios. So he still lives with his widowed mother in this most boring of New York’s five boroughs. As a promise, the camera sometimes captures the silhouette of Manhattan far back on the other side of the bay. If he got there, Scott Carlin would be the king. But it is only “The King of Staten Island”.
This is the name of the new film by Judd Apatow, which the director, born in 1967, wrote together with the stand-up comedian Pete Davidson, who is more than 30 years younger. He also plays the main role in it, and Scott’s biography is based on Davidson’s life. Both lost their fathers in early childhood, who died as firefighters on duty. Both suffer from Crohn’s disease, but act as over-the-top as if they were constantly on drugs. So this comedy is more than just a tragic weave, and the superficiality of Scott’s circle of friends (let alone his love affair), shown in the first twenty minutes of Apatow’s film, is said to hurt. Laughter about suffering (including one’s own in the cinema) – Hollywood comedy has always worked according to this recipe, the boom in embarrassment that has been on the screen for a quarter of a century only drives it to extremes. The embarrassment is in the embarrassment.
Escalation at the verbal level
Apatow has not added an iota to this recipe for success. And Davidson is no more than just another virtuoso of this embarrassment, just a very young one, who thus addresses precisely the target group that makes up the majority of American cinema-goers. “The King of Staten Island” was made for them – a commercially legitimate process, but anyone who claims that something new is being offered here has a memory that doesn’t go far back or hasn’t seen much yet. “The King of Staten Island” resembles the upper body of its title character: countless set pieces and quotes, but ultimately no more than a panopticon. It would be nice if such films got under your skin.
This omission does not have to diminish the fun, especially not the first third of the film, when its rather narrow staff is brought together. The last to join is Ray Bishop, a mustache-bald man, whose adventurous nine-year-old son wanted Scott to stab the Punisher in the upper arm, but then ran home crying after the first line of the needle. As is to be expected, this situation escalates.
An escalation always takes place on the verbal level in Apatow’s comedies. His heroes are natural steam talkers, for whom a quick-witted replica (“I thought he was eighteen”) is much easier than a punch with the fist. And after initial excitement, Mr. Bishop also turns out to be a soul of a man who is called to end the long loneliness of Scott’s mother – whereupon her son finally has to leave the house. As late lovers, Marisa Tomei and Bob Burr show what Pete Davidson still has to learn as an actor: to embody people who go beyond their own personality. In the end, his Scott at least goes beyond the borders of Staten Island.