Somewhere in Queens
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by Karen Benardello
Director: Ray Romano
Writers: Ray Romano and Mark Stegemann
Cast: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Tony Lo Bianco, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jennifer Esposito, Jacob Ward, Sadie Stanley, Dierdre Friel and Jon Manfrellotti
Opens: April 21, 2023
Screened at: Critics Screening Link, New York, 4/19/23
Family gatherings can be a source of comfort and inspiration or tension-fueled conflict for many people. Parents often have aspirations for their children to lead the the life they deserve, while also wanting to celebrate their achievements, but the older generation’s expectations can hinder their descendants’ happiness. Actor-comedian Ray Romano is infusing his personal knowledge of families being both a source of comfort and immense tension in his new dramedy, Somewhere in Queens, which Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions will release in theaters tomorrow, April 21.
The Everybody Loves Raymond alum is expertly continuing his on screen portrayal of his personal experience of his family wanting what’s best for him, while also sharing their blunt opinions about what they feel is best for him, in his new movie. Not only does he star in the personal project, but he also co-wrote the script with frequent collaborator, Mark Stegemann, served as a producer and made his feature film directorial debut.
Like his protagonist in Somewhere Queens, Romano comes from a proud, close-knit, emotional family who loves to express themselves, and to whom their relatives are the most important thing. Both the filmmaker’s real-life Italian-American family that hails from the titular New York City borough and his character’s relatives are loyal and passionate, which are depicted with humor and heart in the project.
Somewhere in Queens follows Leo Russo (Romano), who lives a simple life in the eponymous New York City borough with his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf), who is his high school sweetheart. They have a shy but athletically talented teenage son, Matthew, who’s often referred to by his nickname, “Sticks” (Jacob Ward). The main way Leo knows how to communicate with his son, who’s the star of his high school’s basketball team, is through the latter’s time on the court.
Besides basketball, the trio’s overall dynamic is heavily intertwined with Leo’s close-knit Italian-American family. Leo is happy enough working at the family construction business, Russo Construction, with his alpha-male father (Tony Lo Bianco) and smug younger brother (Sebastian Maniscalco), but lives each week for Sticks’ high-school basketball games. Despite his family’s reluctance to watch Sticks play, Leo never misses a chance to cheer on his son as he rules the court.
At the end of the basketball season, the high-school senior receives a surprising and life-changing opportunity to play basketball in college. As a result, Leo jumps at the chance to provide a plan for his son’s future, away from the family construction business. But when the teen is suddenly left heartbroken by his first girlfriend, Danielle (Sadie Stanley), Leo goes to unexpected lengths to keep his son on his new path.
Romano and Stegemann, who previously penned the Writers Guild of America-nominated comedy-drama television series, Men of a Certain Age, together created a deeply personal story and relatable characters for Somewhere in Queens. Besides growing up in an Italian-American family in Queens, Romano also married into a multi-generational Italian family that stays true to traditions.
That personal experience helped him and his co-scribe craft a three-dimensional, realistic ensemble cast of characters for Somewhere in Queens. Romano and Stegemann crafted Leo and his family be emotional as they all chimed in on each other’s personal business. The dramedy’s script perfectly captures the way Italian-American families from Queens talk, using wise-cracking jokes to ridicule each other’s biggest insecurities, while also offering them genuine support.
Somewhere in Queens thrives on Leo’s father and brother mocking him for not being fully committed to their family’s business to instead support his son’s true athletic talent and ambition. The multi-generational jokes ultimately prove to be truly reflective of the family’s dynamic, as Leo carries on the tradition of making decisions for Stick’s future without consulting him.
Romano and Stegemann’s forgo the clichés of traditional Italian-American-driven movies, and instead lean into the genuine complexity of families. As a result, the film’s overall story and characters ultimately prove to be funny, moving and authentic, which remain true to Romano’s personal experiences.
Having written from such personal experience, the dialogue and situations in every scene of the feature personal resonated with Romano. As a result, Somewhere in Queens became such a personal story for him that he decided to make his feature film directorial debut on the project. As a result, the story was authentically adapted to the screen. He approached making the dramedy with a collaborative sensibility, with both the actors and the crew, which helped bring the story to life.
Somewhere in Queens‘ cinematographer, Maceo Bishop, expertly allowed the actors’ portrayals to shine through in every scene. The Director of Photography’s camera movements intimately focuses on the performer whose character is contending with the most emotional journey and growth.
That personal visual exploration is powerfully explored in every scene of the movie. That stellar sense of cinematography is showcased whether the action in a scene is more static, such as Leo and Angela discussing their son’s talent at one of his games, or the activity is constantly moving, including when Sticks is pursuing a shot on the court.
Emmy winners Romano and Metcalf rely on their experiences playing relatable, middle-class characters in their respective long-running sitcoms – Everybody Loves Raymond and Roseanne – to give stand-out performances in each immaculately shot scene they’re feature in throughout Somewhere in Queens.
The performers present Leo and Angela as well-meaning parents who care about protecting their son. The characters clearly want to safeguard Sticks from both heartache and the pressures of their extended family’s expectations, even if they don’t approach the situation in the healthiest ways.
Somewhere Queens thrives on not turning the Russos and their overall dynamic and conflicts,into caricatures that drive many films about Italian-American families. While the story is driven by Romano’s real-life family in the titular New York City borough, which is a source of both comfort and conflict, the film’s characters ultimately prove to be truly humorous and caring. Combined with Bishop’s intimate and personal cinematography and Metcalf and Romano’s genuine performances, the latter proves to be efficient behind the camera as he is in front of it.
Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf in Somewhere in Queens. Photo Credit Mary Cybulski. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions.