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Ray Romano Is the MVP in His Directorial Debut

Apr 21, 2023


Family can be both a source of comfort and immense tension. They love you and want what’s best for you, but they can also get way up in your business. They have certain perceptions and expectations of you, and, more often than not, they have blunt opinions that they will share whether you asked to hear them or not. In short, family celebrations and gatherings are a tightrope walk, with the potential to be a delight or a disaster. Actor and comedian Ray Romano knows this experience all too well in Somewhere in Queens, a film about one hardworking family man’s unending determination to give his son the life he deserves, and the one that he himself never had.
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The Everybody Loves Raymond star has his hands full with this project that had its world premiere at the Tribeca International Film Festival. In addition to it being his directorial debut, Romano also co-wrote the film on and off for years with frequent collaborator Mark Stegemann. Additionally, he also plays the lead role of Leo who is hands down the black sheep of the tight-knit Italian Russo family. Romano’s overlooked and underappreciated character often shoulders the burden of familial expectations while doing his best to carve a unique enough path for his son, Sticks (Jacob Ward), an excruciatingly shy high school senior and star on the basketball team. Sticks might be the MVP, but he has no aspirations to—or expectations of—pursuing the sport in college. Or, heck, even going to college. It’s assumed at this point, given the extended Russo family tradition, that all the men are going to work for the family construction company from the moment they exit high school, and well, “retirement” isn’t really part of their vocabulary.

All of these factors working against Leo just make him feel more claustrophobic and stifled when he hears from a recruiter that his son is good enough to get a college scholarship. This escalates the enthusiasm that Leo already had about his son (Sticks’ basketball games were the highlight of Leo’s week), but it also makes things incredibly complicated. The Russos, like most Italian families, don’t like to break the norm or tradition. And that means any tradition, which is something Romano’s Leo both loves and loathes about his family. His stoic younger brother Frank (played perfectly by the typically-silly comedian Sebastian Maniscalco) and his sons take the business very seriously, as well as Frank and Leo’s father, Tony Lo Bianco’s Dominic (or as they call him, Pop), making any topic that isn’t about the business extremely hard to bring up.

Image via Roadside Attractions

RELATED: See The Trailer for Ray Romano’s Directorial Debut ‘Somewhere in Queens’

The Russos are incredibly close, though ironically (and much to Leo’s frustration), no one has an interest in supporting Sticks’ basketball, including Angela, Leo’s wife. Angela is played by the undeniable force that is Laurie Metcalf, who steals every scene she is in. Metcalf has a lot on her plate with this role; she has to first and foremost speak in a believable, hardcore New Jersey Italian accent, which she does with flying colors. Her character arguably has the most stress of them all, concealing something from her loved ones that is revealed later in the film.

There is a lot to mine from Metcalf’s character that gets a bit sidelined due to the main story, making every scene with her feel like it’s over far too quickly. Maybe it’s the way she treats getting her pills ready for the week like it’s an Olympic sport or the way she preps chicken cutlets as if she is handling nuclear codes. And nothing quite beats her immediate silent (and then not-so-silent) judging of Dani (Sadie Stanley), Stick’s girlfriend whom Leo and Angela didn’t even know existed.

The introduction of Dani is about when the story actually starts. She meets the family for the big Sunday dinner, and, due to a number of factors that become clear, breaks up with Sticks. This, of course, leaves Sticks heartbroken, as well as Leo, but for more selfish reasons that are, again, revealed. Romano balances the socially awkward and exhausted persona he honed for years on his sitcom with that of a man who is juggling his own crippling insecurities, doubts, and regrets. This genuine vulnerability is a side of the comedian that we haven’t really seen, and, considering how many other responsibilities he is managing on this project, makes his performance all the more memorable. As viewers will quickly realize while watching this film, this isn’t about Sticks, it’s about Leo. It’s so clearly Romano’s movie, making some of the scenes that feature Sticks without either parent feel a bit undercooked.

Image via Roadside Attractions

Somewhere in Queens spends a lot of time establishing the Russo family rapport, their fairly insular world, and the setting, the latter of which is so important that it’s the title of the movie. Heritage and pride toward the family are abundant, as various handmade decorations on the walls donning the Russo family name indicate. Leo’s parents have never replaced or renovated a single decoration since they moved in decades prior, as evident by the abundance of wood paneling, the overstuffed curio cabinet filled with breakable treasures, and the now-ancient-looking television. Not only are all of these details key to conveying who the Russos are, but they are especially beneficial for viewers who are not necessarily versed in everyday Italian-American family culture, and perhaps rely on The Sopranos or The Godfather for an authentic Italian experience. While those titles are accurate, of course, with regard to the almighty Sunday dinner that takes practically the entire day to prepare, it’s overshadowed by “the Mob” cliché that saturates media involving Italians.

It’s very admirable—and refreshing—that Somewhere in Queens doesn’t fall into the trap of caricaturing Italian clichés for comedic effect. There could’ve easily been a number of expected, throwaway gags for a cheap laugh, but Romano smartly steered away from that. It’s a film that doesn’t feel the pressure of reminding the audience that it’s a comedy, which makes the story and the dysfunctional—but very loving—family that much more endearing and authentic to real life.

Rating: B

Somewhere in Queens is in theaters April 21.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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