Take a seat if you’re not already sitting down. What I’m about to say might shock many of you. I never really cared about Everybody Loves Raymond. I have no personal distaste for the show itself, or Ray Romano…it was just never my kind of thing. Naturally, I have no real connection to Romano or his comedy. I’ve seen him act in other films and shows before, but I was never moved in ways to follow his every step. It wasn’t until I looked at the line-up to the 2022 Tribeca Festival that I was even aware he co-wrote and directed a film. After seeing his feature directorial film, Somewhere in Queens however, I’m going to have to start paying attention to his future plans.
Leo and Angela Russo(Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf) live a modest lifestyle. Leo works in construction for his father’s company and Angela is recovering from some recent medical issues. They have a son Matthew (Jacob Ward)–but everyone calls him by his nickname, Sticks– who is very shy/reserved/quiet. But Sticks has a talent for basketball and is the star of his high school team. On the night of a big divisional playoff game for Sticks, some new things come to light for this section of the Russo family.
Not only do Leo and Angela learn their son has a girlfriend (Sadie Stanley as the free-willed Dani), but a college scout was also at the game. The family plan was that Sticks would come work for the family business, and not attend college. While his chances at the bigger schools are out, there is some hope for a last minute slot for a smaller school which sets in motion changes to the dynamics of their entire family.
Much like other recent films (most specifically Hustle), it is hard to say Somewhere in Queens is groundbreaking or wholly original in terms of its story and where it goes. But the the performances and scripting give the film a one-up on the competition. The delivery methods of the script by Romano and Co-writer Mark Stegemann are very subtle and well layered. And while the visual flare of the film isn’t a stunning revelation of cinematography, Romano’s direction is so well planned out that information is delivered swiftly and confidently, but not heavy handed. There are sections early on in the film that slowly drip out a backstory that can be missed if someone is not paying attention. That’s a good thing. The details are explored thoroughly enough later on to not loose viewers, but reward those who listen and focus on the events of every scene.
No performances are wasted here, either. Laurie Metcalf of course just kills it like she always does. The fact that she doesn’t have a comparable amount Oscar nominations on par with Meryl Streep (at least we know she makes up for it in Tony and Emmy recognition) is criminal. Romano while always known to be somewhat low energy, focuses his performance in all the right places to be effective both emotionally and physically at all the right points. And while we would be here forever if I covered every actors work in the film, I’d be remorsefully to not point out the work of Diedre Friel as one of the Russo siblings who absolutely steals every moment she is on screen.
Somewhere in Queens has a lot of moving parts. While I’ve only spoken about a single section of the family, the Russos are a large Italian family. This film is an exploration of a an entire clan who don’t know/can’t properly communicate with each other. Leo, Angela, and Sticks all have issues standing-up and speaking for themselves, but each of them in different ways. And what makes the film even more fabulous is that while it ends with resolutions for these problems– it doesn’t solve them all. There is a resolution for our main characters in regards to their immediate issues. The larger questions and issues with the family as a whole still have bubbling undercurrents that are not settled. Because that is how real life works.
Though I can/have enjoyed films that don’t really do anything new to break ground in the world of film making, I hold Somewhere in Queens in higher regard than most. Frankly, if everything about the film was the same except it was starring, written by, and directed by someone other than Ray Romano–I’d still feel the same way. Yet, it’s hard not to say that there is a special glow about the film that comes from knowing that a man most people don’t see as a dramatist/film maker (and don’t get me wrong, I know he hasn’t only every just done comedy), makes it all the more special.
Final Grade: A-