For 210 episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Ray Romano played a man very much like himself — with a wife, kids, an older brother who’s a cop, and his parents in a house across the street in the suburbs of New York CIty. Helmed by Phil Rosenthal, the sitcom mined every aspect of that turf by staying focused on the interpersonal relationships.
Being in those familiar situations allowed Romano to grow from his career as a standup comic into a pretty good actor. Since then, he’s starred in two underrated series (“Get Shorty” and “Men Of A Certain Age”), done voice work for the “Ice Age” animated movies, co-starred on the TV version of “Parenthood,” and appeared in big-screen features like “The Big Sick” and “The Irishman.”
Now, Romano is back in familiar territory as the director, writer, and star of “Somewhere In Queens.” It starts at a family wedding, one of many events we see at Versailles Palace, the favored venue for everyone’s celebrations — birthdays, christenings, confirmations, and bar mitzvahs. We see several people try to say nice things for the videographer to capture as a keepsake for the happy couple. Romano’s character gets up and gives it a shot, but does such a bad job he asks to have his part edited out.
That’s Leo, a schlubby guy who drives everyone crazy by quoting “Rocky” too often and works in the family’s construction business. It’s run by his father (Tony LoBianco), who seems to have no respect for Leo — he treats him like his name was Fredo — so it’s the other son, Frank (Sebastian Maniscalco), who’s foreman of the crew. At home, Leo has a wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf), who takes no crap from anybody — especially him. They have a son nicknamed Sticks (because of his long legs), a star on the high school basketball team. Leo pours himself into every opportunity to cheer on Sticks (Jacob Ward) and tries to make him an even better player in the hope he’ll get a scholarship, the only way they could afford to send him to college.
Into this tightly knit family comes Sticks’ new girlfriend Danielle (Sadie Stanley), who he brings home for Sunday dinner with the whole clan. That could be dangerous territory for a newcomer considering the volume and intensity of every word spoken during the meal. But Danielle gives as good as she gets, and earns some admiration from Sticks’ grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts — but not Angela, who’s immediately wary of anyone spending time with her son.
Then Leo sticks his nose somewhere he shouldn’t, and “Somewhere In Queens” turns in a way I didn’t see coming as the script, by Romano and Mark Stegemann, gets even better. The comedic tone of its early scenes yields to the awkwardness of Leo doing anything he can to help his son — just as his own father never did. Romano, Metcalf, Ward, and Stanley all play it note perfect, imbuing each of their characters with a robust personality with layers of insecurity just below the surface.
That, along with Romano’s innate likability and now-well-developed acting talent, make “Somewhere In Queens” more than merely a star’s passion project or a big-screen sitcom. It may struggle at the box office because stories like this don’t draw big crowds to theaters, but those who don’t go will miss out on a nice little movie that I heartily recommend.
I give it an 8 out of 10. Opens in theaters tomorrow.