Film Review: Somewhere in Queens | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, April 16th, 2024  

Somewhere in Queens

Studio: Roadside Flix
Director: Ray Romano

Apr 29, 2023 Web Exclusive
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At the start of Somewhere in Queens, the new dramedy co-written, directed, and starring television’s Ray Romano, everything seems to be sending up red flags that a corny, mawkish couple of hours lie ahead. The locale– a predominantly Italian-American corner of, you guessed it, Queens– tracks worryingly close to that of Romano’s beloved sitcom. A character’s health issues are alluded to in hushed tones that would have any savvy moviegoer securing a box of kleenex. Even the title itself, Somewhere in Queens, smacks of a maudlin tune Billy Joel might’ve tossed onto the heap. How rewarding, then, that this unsuspecting film turns out to be a cliché-evading, deftly-written, sincerely heartwarming winner.

Leo Russo leads a traditional, happy-enough life with his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) and lanky teenage son, lovingly nicknamed “Sticks” (Jacob Ward). The Russos’ days are spent maintaining their generations-old construction business, sharing a raucous weekly dinner with extended family, and heading over to the same old banquet hall in their same old formal wear for a ceaseless lineup of weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, and so on. One gets the impression Leo’s life is not terribly different from his father’s, or his grandfather’s before that.

Except there is one difference. Sticks, for years a shy, anxious child, has blossomed into quite the high school hoops star, and naturally Leo never misses a game (so much so that the players chant his name when he takes his seat in the bleachers, reserved with a hand-made cardboard sign). A double-whammy of events turns the Russos’ lives upside-down: first, a talent scout gets Sticks a tryout at Drexel University, with a scholarship on the line; second, Sticks’s girlfriend (Sadie Stanley) dumps him, sapping his ambition just when he needs it most. Certain he knows best, Leo sets out to get Sticks that spot on the team and put him on a path away from construction and banquet halls and Queens– an opportunity Leo himself never had– and he’s willing to deceive and manipulate to make it happen.

There’s much to admire about Somewhere in Queens, but what shines the brightest is the script. Slightly generic table-setting aside, in no time at all sharp, dynamic characters begin to emerge, and Romano and co-writer Mark Stegemann afford them such dignity. The script adheres to the way people really speak, and how life really unfolds. No one is forced through any plot contrivance or made to deliver flowery prose (one of Metcalf’s best moments seems like it is heading into sentimental territory and then veers toward a different conclusion– sometimes dads are idiots). A lingering cancer storyline never rears its head to take us down that all-too-familiar weepy road; instead it exists to add depth to everyone’s motivations. Sticks’s anxiety, first casually referenced but later playing a major role, is keenly observed and written with remarkable care.

Jacob Ward is excellent casting as the youngest Russo. He’s got the look of a high school athlete, but also that slightly alien, unknowable quality kids take on when their world revolves so much around a sport. Laurie Metcalf is one of the finest actors working today and an American treasure, and as such it should be forgiven if the Queens accent doesn’t flow from her mouth with ease, exactly. But the star of the show is Ray Romano, who over the past decade has been honing his acting chops with supporting roles in films such as The Big Sick and The Irishman, and here turns in the finest performance of his career. His Leo Russo is the affable, inarticulate common man we’ve come to expect from the comedian, but tinged with a palpable, creeping sadness. When Somewhere in Queens reveals itself to be not exactly a slice-of-life crowd pleaser as advertised, but rather a portrait of a man in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis, it comes as a surprise to the audience and Leo alike.

A few of the usual issues that arise in these family-focused dramas turn up here. The extended Russo family are mostly pulled out of the cupboard of stock Italian aunts and uncles and cousins, and occasionally their stereotypical asides and outbursts are less-than inspired. A plotline in which Leo ponders infidelity is unearned and unnecessary, and there are shades of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Sticks’s girlfriend, Dani, who seems wise and confident far beyond her years. Furthermore, this is a deeply sincere and occasionally sentimental film, which will undoubtedly be a turn-off to some. But in this reviewer’s opinion, it takes bravery to make a film so boldly emotional– so purely about how much a father loves his son– and films like that are to be admired. Somewhere in Queens opens this weekend exclusively in theaters.

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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