Although Ray Romano has dabbled in writing quite a bit, including a series he created called Men of a Certain Age, the star (best known for the Emmy winning sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which certainly contained lots of material drawn from his own life and family experiences) is now moving to the big screen with perhaps his most ambitious project yet. The film, Somewhere In Queens, draws its comedy and drama from a very somewhat overbearing but likeable and recognizable Italian American family.
Again Romano is borrowing from his own life, in this case his wife’s family in particular for the script he co-wrote with Mark Stegemann. This time he not only writes but also directs, produces and stars as Leo Russo, married to his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) and bringing up a son, “Sticks” (Jacob Ward), whose talent for hoops in high school makes Dad proud especially when his son gets the unexpected opportunity to play college ball on a scholarship — a surprise since he was planning to skip college and go straight into the family construction business run by Leo’s father (Tony Lo Bianco) and where his brother (Sebastian Maniscalco) works. Trouble starts however when Sticks’ spirited girlfriend (Sadie Stanley) suddenly breaks up with him, an act he takes so hard it upends his basketball plans, something Leo is determined to go to great lengths to get back on track. This leads to not the best decisions, and lots of family strife.
Romano has crafted a film, which debuted tonight at the Tribeca Festival, that walks a fine line between comedy and drama, sometimes getting very heavy. He shows a good degree of directorial skill in not letting it careen out of control once Leo’s plans start to blow up in his face. It is hard enough to just direct a film, but for his first Romano has also given himself one of his most challenging roles as a guy who clearly loves his family but nearly loses it all. Although like much of his past work this film about a family from Queens (just like Romano’s) offers some very funny stuff, it feels authentic in showing off a vocal and vibrant Italian American family who sometimes just get too much on each other’s nerves. They are loud and loving, and they actually have conversations around the dinner table believe it or not. In that way, the Russos feel comfortably old fashioned, and Romano definitely knows the territory.
He is lucky to have put together such a talented cast. Metcalf (who gets a classic final line in the film) is incapable of hitting a false note, even when things turn highly dramatic. Her Angela is a loving mom, fearful for her own future and that of her family who nevertheless holds them all together even as her husband teeters on the edge of calamity. Ward is understated and terrific as a kid who is somewhat fragile, and not really sure he wants what his dad insists is good for him. Lo Bianco and Maniscalco are fine as well in less defined roles they still make engaging. Stanley is a real firecracker as the girlfriend, and Jennifer Esposito makes the most of a role of an attractive neighbor who might be too much of a temptation for Leo is his worst moments.
Producers are Albert Berger and Rox Yerxa (Little Miss Sunshine, Nebraska) along with Romano and Stegemann. The film is looking for distribution, and based on the impressive results of Romano’s directorial debut I would say it shouldn’t be a problem finding the right place for it to land.
Tribeca Review: Ray Romano Directs, Writes And Stars With Laurie Metcalf In ‘Somewhere In Queens’