Synopsis: Leo and Angela Russo live a simple life in Queens, surrounded by their overbearing Italian-American family. When their son ‘Sticks’ finds success on his high school basketball team, Leo tears the family apart trying to make it happen.
Stars: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Tony Lo Bianco, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jennifer Esposito, Jacob Ward, Sadie Stanley, Dierdre Friel, Jon Manfrellotti
Director: Ray Romano
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It’s one of the first principles of writing that every teacher will tell a student: write what you know. The best place to start is where you feel most familiar. The comfort zone is your friend, and from that place, you can step your toe out an inch at a time, testing the waters for what else could be out there for you to explore. Maybe the temperature is too hot, and you get roasted, so you retreat to the security of where you are comfortable. Or perhaps you find the environment welcoming and discovered a new area where you can be creatively authentic.
This deep dive was sponsored by Ray Romano’s new film, Somewhere in Queens. It’s a film that feels recognizable to fans of Romano’s successful TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond in that it depicts the warts and all lives of a close-knit family in NYC. That’s not to say Romano’s directorial debut is an R-rated retread of material he’s already covered before. This movie, co-written by Mark Stegemann, is deeper and more character-driven than the light-hearted and lovely Everybody Loves Raymond was even at its peak. (Don’t read that as a knock. I loved that CBS half-hour comedy and it was one of the few shows on network TV I watched every episode of.)
Romano appears to want to expand on what he started on his early television show and explore what happens to a family at a time when no one is on the same page, even though everyone is supposedly working toward the same shared goal. That goal is happiness, and at the beginning of Somewhere in Queens, a wedding reception, no one seems to be having the best time. And it’s only going to get more complex over the following months.
Leo (Romano, The Irishman) works with his brothers and father in the family home remodeling business. Often the sibling that takes the brunt of the pressure because of his unwillingness to fight back, he lets his family walk all over him with barely a whimper. His marriage to high-school sweetheart Angela (Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird) is solid but strained, still delicate with emotion after Angela’s recent brush with cancer. Their son Sticks (Jacob Ward) is a star basketball player but doesn’t have college plans, at least not until a college scout attending a game to see another student tells Leo and Angela how much potential he has.
Leo needs this encouragement to find a fire within himself to help his son take advantage of his skills and make the kind of big-dream lifestyle he never had. Sticks is ambivalent about college but sure about his girlfriend Dani, finding his motivation from her admiration. When things go south with her, and Leo realizes Dani makes all the difference, he forms a plan to get them back together, which might be a band-aid for the present. Still, he can’t hold back an inevitable future that will come crashing back with mighty consequences for everyone.
It’s evident from the quality of filmmaking that Romano has paid attention when on set throughout his career. Listening and observing gave him the tools he needed to deliver admirable work. Somewhere in Queens is not simply well-written and well-acted (I mean, anyone in a scene with the outstanding Metcalf is only bound to be better because of it) but looks excellent and has been assembled with a fine eye for detail and pace. It’s the exact length it should be and not a second longer.
That’s enough time to demonstrate how solid Romano is as an actor, creating an endearing portrait of a father wanting success for his son and trying to give it to him any way he knows how…and not being able to admit he doesn’t know how. The colorful supporting cast also has a few gems in it (stage veteran Jennifer Simard walks away with any scene she shows up in), and you rarely must wait long for a line with some ring of authenticity to it. It’s not a sitcom script filled with quippy repartee but dialogue that sounds like these people would speak. With that good ear for dialogue and intelligent ey for casting, Somewhere in Queens often rules above other comedic family dramas.