Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Somewhere in Queens’ is a clichéd yet enjoyable drama

Director: Ray Romano

Writer: Ray Romano, Mark Stegemann

Stars: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Sebastian Maniscalco

Synopsis: Leo and Angela Russo live a simple life in Queens, surrounded by their overbearing Italian-American family. When their son ‘Sticks’ finds success on his high-school basketball team, Leo tears the family apart trying to make it happen.

You may have expected a darker comedy and deeply personal experience with Ray Romano’s directorial debut, Somewhere in Queens. His first-time feature has a stench of contentedness that comes with being comfortable in his post-sitcom life. You won’t find sublimated moments from his Queens upbringing into general hilarity here. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Romano’s film leans into exposed and sensitive moments that come with aging and your place in life when you reach a certain age that’s humorous and heartfelt. 

Somewhere in Queens follows Leo Russo (Romano), who has become a cog in the wheel of his Italian American family. Leo is married to his high school sweetheart, Angela (Academy Award nominee Laurie Metcalf). His father, “Pops” (The French Connection’s Tony Lo Bianco), owns a construction business, and Leo’s brother, Frank (comedian Sebastian Maniscalco), is second in command. With Leo in a full-blown existential crisis and prospects beyond those familial walls, Leo has begun to live vicariously through his son, Matthew (Jacob Ward), affectionally called “Sticks” by his friends and family.

Sticks is a senior in high school and a star player on his basketball team. After a chance encounter with a scout who recruits a rival player to Syracuse, his parents are told he could land a division one basketball scholarship, albeit on a much smaller scale. The thought of Sticks playing for a school like Drexel in Philadelphia means his father can keep this form of escapism going for four more years. Leo will do anything to see his son succeed, including propositioning his son’s girlfriend, Dani (Dead to Me’s Sadie Stanley), to keep him on the right path with financial incentives.

Romano also wrote the script, and his film succeeds, even flourishes, as a heartfelt comedy when the comic captures the love and abrasive nature of this Italian family’s interaction and communication. For example, the picture has strategically layered scenes involving Leo and his family at functions such as wedding receptions and graduation parties. There is a real verve and rhythm to these scenes that bring a cringe and bitter, honest comedy that Romano is known for. The film’s best scenes revolve around the script’s bountiful Sunday dinners. There is an unsaid expression of love and success that comes with a blue-collar, working-class family that calls for a sense of achievement that cannot possibly be monetized.

Those entertaining comedic moments come from Metcalf’s Angela. Her character is deathly afraid of empty nest syndrome and the aging process. This is mainly when she’s fiercely protective of Sticks if any female interest and scene where she goes off on her primary care physician for having the nerve to suggest a support group delicately. You can practically picture the seems coming apart as she goes into a rage.

Somewhere in Queens involves fewer comedic shticks than you may expect because Romano refuses to go for homerun moments. This is fine because this dramatization is seen through a stand-up comic lens. However, the result hampers the film because the drama here is primarily only on the surface level. Romano’s script desperately needed one big, highly charged moment to show the aftermath effects of Leo’s plan to show the true resiliency of this family. Then again, the family’s tendency to bury much of it under the rug without delving too profoundly sounds as realistic as any family in Romano’s generation.

While Somewhere in Queens can be stagnant at times, especially in those clichéd moments — I would have removed the Jennifer Esposito subplot entirely — for the most part, this dramedy is enjoyable. That’s because Romano’s first time behind the camera is unafraid to lean into the raw nerves and feelings accompanying heartfelt familial experiences. If only his script had fully explored and embraced those impulses, he would have had something truly remarkable.

Grade: B-

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