Directed by: Ray Romano
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Patrick Hao
With “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Ray Romano was able to transport his everyman schtick to sitcom success. The undercurrent of the broad sitcom nature of that long-running show was something more grounded. The TV character Ray Barone suffered from panic attacks while getting into primetime network hijinks. Romano’s writer-director film debut, “Somewhere in Queens,” is an inverse of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” model. With a standard indie film exterior, something more grounded and true to home, Romano relies on broad characterization in his portrait of a working-class Italian American family. The results are an endearing self-reflective tribute to the working class.
While not auto-biographical – Romano has probably not lived in a working-class home in Forest Hill, Queens in quite some time – the strength of “Somewhere in Queens” is Romano sticking with well-worn topics that he feels a deep connection with. The film follows Leo Russo (Romano), an understated guy seething in lost potential. He works construction for his father (Tony LoBianco), a gruff man who does not say I love you often, and has been surpassed on the business’s totem pole by his younger brother (played with bluster by comic Sebastian Maniscalco). His relationship with Angela (the great Laurie Metcalf) is loving but far from passionate.
The one beacon in his life is his son Sticks (Jacob Ward). He is called Sticks because of his tall thin frame which has made him into a local high school basketball star – the type that is not destined for the NBA but is great for high school. Leo, who does not have much else in his ho-hum life, lives vicariously through Stick’s basketball stardom. The gym even chants his name when he enters the gymnasium. And Sticks is even good enough to get some scouts from Division II Basketball programs looking at him. However, Leo worries about his sensitive son when right before his basketball tryout, Sticks’ girlfriend, Dani (Sadie Stanley) – think Sydney Sweeney if she had a Queens accent – breaks up with him. Leo, grasping onto this vicarious glory, convinces her to continue seeing him – at least until the tryout is over.
The whole plot sounds like a three-episode arc after a sitcom has already earned syndication. But, Romano is a smart writer and director. He knows to surround himself with a solid supporting cast of good actors like Metcalf and character actors with unique faces. The actors in Leo’s family including Deirdre Friel and Jon Manfrellotti all have outer borough, New York faces that cannot be replicated by any old actor. And along with the faces, they bring personality. Running gags include Italian Sunday dinners and catered occasions at the local banquet halls for any reason, all handled with a deft touch so that it never wears out its welcome.
Romano, as director, is able to handle the broad aspects and the more human drama. However, there is a lack of purposefulness in the film beyond depiction which is something that can hamper a lot of indie dramedies of this ilk. It is nice to see my hometown of Queens handled with care and tenderness. It is nice to see working-class families learn some life lessons as they handle their messy choices. However, the film lacks a sense of narrative propulsion that keep it from being more than a pleasant watch.
The only time it comes to any sort of dynamism is when Sadie Stanley’s Dani is onscreen, outside her comfort zone with the Russo family. If the film focused on her making these choices, both out of care for an ex-boyfriend and because of the naivete of youth, then the film may have been stronger. But, Romano is someone who has always written about what he knows and he does so very well. And while “Somewhere in Queens” is not groundbreaking, there is something pleasant about being mild-mannered.