Ray Romano knows how to act and direct.
From “Everybody Loves Raymond” to “Ice Age” to NBC’s “Parenthood” to “The Big Sick” to “The Irishman,” Ray Romano sure has made a name for himself, and he continues his originality with his directorial debut of “Somewhere in Queens.” It’s an affectionate comedy-drama with some powerful performances, good laughs, and truthful aspects, even though we can’t always read the characters.
Romano also casts himself, along with Laurie Metcalf, Sadie Stanley (“The Goldbergs”), Jennifer Esposito, Sebastian Maniscalco, Tony Lo Biano, and a newcomer Jacob Ward. He also refuses to steal the picture from any of them, but rather help show off their humanities. And he also knows how to use “Rocky” references better than how “Mafia Mamma” revealed a lack of common sense, regarding the Toni Collette character never seeing “The Godfather.” This movie knows “Rocky” quotes when it sees them.
But even without that, “Somewhere in Queens” knows when to be funny and when to be serious. And I like where Romano is going in his mid 60s. And unlike “Mafia Mamma,” he knows how to use an Italian-American family with good taste. And it can be a pretty loud family. Well, this was produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, the two behind “Little Miss Sunshine,” so it kind of makes sense.
He plays Leo Russo, who is in the construction family business, run by his father (Lo Bianco), and has a son nicknamed Sticks (Ward), who is poised to become a basketball star. If only his team could win a game and if only a school could sniff out a scout for him. And he got the nickname for the way his legs grew. Obviously, that’s how he has unlimited potential as a would-be basketball star with the kind of height that the main protagonist of “Chang Can Dunk” wanted to have. That is of Sticks wants to be a basketball star.
Leo’s wife Angela (Metcalf) has been bitter ever since she became a cancer survivor, and is worried if there is another diagnosis. I can’t understand her feelings, because I never was diagnosed, but it’s easy to sympathize her and really feel her anger. And she is also a bit salty about her son’s new girlfriend Dani (Stanley), who apparently is smarter than him. And when Dani breaks up with Sticks for her own life purposes, he becomes a moper, so his dad has to bribe her to continue dating him until he gets his scholarship.
“Somewhere in Queens” can be a little typical at times with certain moments, but it isn’t condescending and it isn’t mean-spirited. In fact, it’s quite emotional and charming when it chooses to be. With help from co-writer Mark Stegemann, Romano writes the characters with sincerity and he balances both sides as a filmmaker and star. And he’s not the only one to carry the film, because you get such fine supporting work from Metcalf, Stanley, and Esposito who plays an attractive, but good-natured neighbor.
The movie has the nerve to overpower any cynicism and allow the characters to reflect on reality. Will they move forward? Will they forgive and forget about what they learn in the story? No spoilers. It’s life. We just have to try to roll with it. I can’t wait to see what Romano does with his next directorial position, because he offers freshness to the characters portrayed by the right actors. Everybody should love Raymond’s ideas.
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