An adaptive step in the advertising process for releasing a movie in a global pandemic, director Judd Apatow hosted a virtual roundtable with ten journalists from universities across the United States on Zoom. During the call, Apatow answered questions regarding his professional journey which culminated in his newest film, “The King of Staten Island,” premiering through VOD platforms on June 12.
Over his career, Apatow has made a name for himself by elevating promising comedic talents to big-screen performances, blurring the line between fiction and biography. In his latest work, Apatow directs “Saturday Night Live” breakout Pete Davidson in a bracing comedy about a burnout who struggles with mental health while reconciling his firefighting father's death. Throughout the film, Davidson's character matures through confronting his grief-ridden stagnation and misguided beliefs about heroism through unconventional means: laughter.
Utilizing humor to heal, comedians are often subject to criticism of insensitivity. Apatow refutes this claim, defending hilarity as the natural coping mechanism to the absurdity innate in tragedy.
"We've all been through the horrible grief involved in the sudden trauma of losing someone. Seeing a character go through it and how they survive it can help, in addition to being funny," Apatow said. "Pete clearly has been through a lot and we just have an instinct to care about him, because I think we all feel like him in some way. He's darkly comic and willing to talk about things that most people want to keep hidden."
Davidson's father, Scott Matthew Davidson (to whom the movie is dedicated), was a first responder who died during the September 11 attacks. Scott, Pete’s character in the film inspired by his own life, struggles with a case of arrested development after his father died when he was seven. Scott juggles the juxtaposition of his unrelenting respect for his father with indolent resentment for his childhood trauma.
Initially, Scott holds the generalized belief that being a hero is only acceptable, "if you're not going to have kids because you don't know if you're going to come home or not — and then your kids are f***ed up." Igniting a rare conversation about the role of valor in today's society, Apatow underscores the necessity of the immolation of self for the welfare of others
"These are everyday people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for strangers," Apatow said. "I was so moved to meet the firefighters because they think of their vocations as such a joy. It sounds corny but they like helping people."
The 2 hours and 16 minute story stretches into an unglamorous trek of realism in both its setting and its sympathetic character study, an intentional choice for authenticity by Apatow and Davidson.
"Staten Island is a strange place with its own culture because there's no attraction there that would make anyone visit if you didn't have friends or family there. We felt if we shoot the entire movie there, we will get a truthful look at what it feels like to be there," Apatow said. "Pete always wanted to be accurate, inside and out, especially in regard to mental health. Everything I've ever done is ultimately about mental health in some way."
A wholesome collision of generations, 'The King of Staten Island' showcases Apatow's extensive experience and Davidson's fresh and biting voice to create a relatable and amusing narrative for audiences of any age.
"Most of my main characters are 'stuck' somehow and they need something to happen to knock them out of their rut to force them to evolve, which resonates with every person," Apatow said. "Everyone is just trying to get through the day to make their life work. I just think we are all hanging around, hurting each other, helping each other and screwing up – and that's generally comedic."