Somewhere in Queens
Leo Russo (Ray Romano) works for the family construction business where his dad, Dominic (Tony Lo Bianco), complains about his lateness and favored younger brother Frank (comedian Sebastian Maniscalco) bosses him around. So when his only son Matty (Jacob Ward), the star of his underdog high school basketball team, hits the court and points toward the stands, raising a chant for his dad, Leo basks in the limelight and will end up going way too far trying to stake his vicarious claim to fame “Somewhere in Queens.”
Laura's Review: B+
Cowriter (with his 'Men of a Certain Age' collaborator Mark Stegemann)/director Ray Romano makes his feature debut with a thoroughly relatable and very authentic look at how an anxiety-prone only child affects the behavior of his parents and how that reverberates throughout an extended Italian American family. Culling from his own background, Romano paints a colorful portrait of Queens with its singular homes both large and small and the function hall, Versailles Palace, where every family milestone is celebrated.
This is where we first meet the Russo family via video messages being recorded during a wedding. The next morning, Leo fusses over his packed lunch as his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) warns him he’ll be late. On site, dad grumbles, Leo then reminding him that he also must leave early for his son ‘Sticks’’ final game of the season, clearly disappointed that his father shows no interest in this grandson even as he tells him they ‘probably won’t win’ against the superior North Jersey.
Romano captures all the communal intensity of the game, where Matty’s prowess keeps his team in play up to the game’s very last seconds, dad standing frozen as real time slows to a crawl. But there is just as much intrigue during the game’s half time intermission, when a friend of Matty’s introduces Leo and Angela to their son’s girlfriend Danielle (Sadie Stanley), an attachment neither knew their socially awkward child had. While Matt clearly meant to keep her under wraps, Angela immediately invites the girl into the lion’s den known as the Russos’ Sunday dinner and the cheerful, outgoing Dani accepts. And Matt isn’t even around to offer his opinion when Leo is recognized as his dad in the parking lot by Ben Parson (P.J. Byrne), a basketball scout who thinks the athlete has a strong shot at a Drexel University scholarship in Philadelphia, the home of Leo’s oft-quoted “Rocky.”
With visions of basketball stardom dancing in his head, Leo is all in on getting Matty into Drexel, even as Angela and his entire extended family dismisses the idea for various reasons. Matty appears to be going along with the plan, but when he moves too fast in his romantic relationship and Dani rejects him, he goes into a tailspin and Leo steps in where he shouldn’t to keep the ball moving. When what he’s done is finally revealed because of the untenable situation he’s put Dani in, there is a family meltdown of epic proportions, ignited at Versailles Palace.
Romano and Stegemann have crafted wonderful characters and given them juicy, natural dialogue and situations to play with. The ensemble is spot on, a stubble-faced Romano adjusting his hangdog persona to perfect effect, Metcalf going toe-to-toe as his wife with her own cross to bear. Ward, made to look geeky with a haircut bordering on a bowl, plays anxiety with just the right amount of understated charm. Stanley gives a real breakout performance, however, as the girl who sees beyond the obvious (she talks to sign twirlers so they ‘won’t feel invisible’) and isn’t afraid to speak her mind as evinced at that raucous family dinner. Also notable are Jon Manfrellotti (TV's 'Men of a Certain Age') as Leo’s sympathetic Uncle Pete, Dierdre Friel as his single sister Rosa and Jennifer Esposito (HBO's 'The Sopranos') as the Russos’ lonely client who turns to Leo at a pivotal moment.
Ray Romano became a television legend with his long running ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ series, but he’s continued to make interesting career choices ever since. With “Somewhere in Queens” Romano settles confidently into the director’s chair, delivering a sprawling family dramedy larded with behavioral insight.
Robin's Review: B+
Leo (Ray Romano) lives a blue collar existence working for the family construction biz. He lives to support his son, “Sticks” (newcomer Jacob Ward), on the court of his high school basketball team. But, when a college scout approaches Leo and his son with the prospect of a full scholarship, proud dad sees stars in his eyes in “Somewhere in Queens.”
Ray Romano makes his feature directorial debut, adapting the script written by Romano and Mark Stegemann, and returns to his “Everybody Loves Raymond” family vibe. Here, he is a doting father in mutual admiration with his son, Matthew, the unexpected star of the local high school basketball team. The possibility of a scholarship for Matthew clouds Leo’s judgment, often badly and misguided.
The story of a father’s obsession with having his son be great – and, by extension, Leo feels great, too – is set among the big and sprawling Russo family, with Tony Lo Bianco as its patriarch, Dominic. We meet the Russo’s over noisy and crowded Sunday dinners and the celebrations of all the weddings, anniversaries and baptisms. They may use “youse” a lot, but their hearts are in the right place.
Leo gets so wrapped up in the opportunities his son will have, it clouds his judgment to the point where he does not see what his son really wants. The father-son dynamic dominates a story about family dynamic.
Tyro helmer Romano has a good sense of family life, its pains and its absurdities – and its humor. While he is the central figure in the story, he is a part of a talented ensemble cast and the many characters feel like family. I wonder what he will do next.
Roadside Attractions releases "Somewhere in Queens" in theaters on 4/21/23.