Look it’s very clear that everybody loves Ray Romano. For nearly 10 years the comedic genius graced our television screens bringing us into the home of his somewhat autobiographical Italian American upbringing. And if he wasn’t in your home enough he continued for another decade voicing the lovable but anxious Manny the wooly mammoth in the Ice Age franchise. Even if we don’t know the man personally it sure felt like we did. So it became clear that many would easily welcome him back into their homes. Romano must have realized that too because his latest venture SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS (his directorial debut) is another wonderful invite to the world that Romano knows so well. A hysterical and accurate look at enmeshed Italian American families living in Queens NY (Romano’s hometown) and the love people share and also the chaos they inflict on each member. It’s also Romano’s finest performance since the under appreciated Men of a Certain Age tv show. You do not need to be familiar with Ray’s previous work or from an Italian family to enjoy this winner but by the end you’ll be wanting to hug your own family, that is once all the yelling stops.
Leo Russo (Romano) is both a man down on his luck and one of the luckiest men alive. He has a wonderful extended family and comes home from work at his father’s (Tony Lo Bianco) construction job to his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf playing the best mom role since her mom role in Lady Bird) who is a real Italian firecracker. She greets him both with a “love you” and a “fuck you” in true Italian form. His son who they’ve nicknamed “Sticks” (Jacob Ward a terrific find in his first film) seems quiet in a sea of loudmouth rambunctious Italians which also include Leo’s cruel brother (Sebastian Maniscalcco) who spends most of his time berating Leo. If Leo is the runt of his immediate family it is seen best in an opening scene where he tries to give a wedding toast (at one of the many events his family will go to all at the same venue; an incredibly hysterical and accurate Italian American joke) and can barely come up with the right words, “don’t hurt each other and god bless America” he utters out confusing even the wedding videographer. But Leo’s luck changes at tonight. It’s at night where we learn that he not only attends every one of his son’s basketball games, but that his son is the true star. Quiet and reserved but a beast on the court. As Leo enters the gyn there are seats already reserved for him and Angela. The team even chants “Mr. Russo” and Romano directs the scene straight out of a Rocky parody closing in on Leo’s face and showing us this is his pride and joy, and as much as it is his son’s moment it is also his. Anyone from a close knit family can tell you this never works out well. Enmeshed families mean well but they never know when to stop. When it becomes clear that their quiet son has a big life of his own both Leo and Angela make some big discoveries. The biggest realization is Dani (Sadie Stanley) Sticks’ new girlfriend who, as all Italian mom’s do, is seen as trouble by Angela from the start. Metcalf is truly the perfect Italian mom as she assumes Dani is with her son for one thing and one thing only. It’s a running gag throughout the film that works mainly because of Metcalf’s sharp delivery.
Leo’s involvement in Sticks’ life is much like any father who dreams of becoming an athlete but when it fails is thrusted upon their child. However Romano’s script (co written with Mark Stegemann) never makes Leo aggressive with force but rather pushy and even borderline creepy when it comes to his son’s well being. The script does a great job and showing the generational gaps between parents and children where even if they mean well their methods to the madness is entirely outdated. As Sticks relationship with Dani begins to fall apart Leo is right there to try and pick up the pieces. Romano and Stanley might have some of the strongest chemistry in the film perfectly bouncing off one another in a very awkward set up that involves Leo offering to pay for Dani’s car just so she stays with his son. Stanley a rising star holds her own as the outsider to a loving family and even becomes the main focus herself, a strong move from a script that was written by two middle aged men.
For all it’s comedic mishaps SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS never forgets that this is a love letter to family. As things start to follow apart it’s hard to ever believe it won’t be put back together. This isn’t to say Romano and Stegemann are writing a pro “family no matter what” film, but instead just inviting you to a specific family that believes they can work things out, but given the right amount of time. As Sticks takes his own journey which involves a potential scholarship to Drexel, first love and wanting to make your parents proud but still being your own person, the film does a great job at not only siding with the younger generation but also making parents realize that when the kids go off and away their is still love that can happen at home. Metcalf and Romano work well together not just because they are believable but also it is clear they are speaking out to their own kids and saying “I get it now, but it still hurts to see you grow up.”
Romano may stay in familiar and comfortable territory (his shots of Queens are beautiful and feel like a guided tour by Roman himself) but that doesn’t mean he can’t excel beyond a syndicated tv episode. Everybody Loves Raymond this is not. Leo unlike Ray doesn’t get bailed out at the last minute and their are real stakes at play. Even if the film wraps up in a way that forcefully tugs at the heartstrings it does so in a way that takes a much needed detour. Romano clearly can write what we knows and if he can go beyond that may be a question that rises, but for all his familiarity he and the entire QUEENS team has found a way to make a much closer look at the way we just abide by family and love unconditionally. Romano knows it Italian families these are requirements but love is still something that must be earned regardless. By the end you are ready for the next Romano film and the love he has shared with us is still given back to him after all these years. That is how you know you are a true winner.
SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS PREMIERED AT THE 2022 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING U.S. DISTRIBUTION