“Somewhere in Queens,” Ray Romano’s directorial debut, may be modest in scope, but it carries emotional weight.

Ray Romano takes on the roles of writer, director, and star in this heartwarming tale, portraying a father who, despite his best intentions, offers misguided assistance to his son.

Ray Romano returns to his roots in multiple ways with “Somewhere in Queens.” Making his directorial debut, the film features Romano as Leo Russo, an Italian American residing in Queens and employed at his father’s construction firm. With his wife Angela (portrayed by Laurie Metcalf) recuperating from breast cancer, Leo finds solace in watching his son “Sticks” (played by Jacob Ward) excel in varsity basketball. However, when Sticks has the opportunity for a college scholarship, Leo resorts to questionable tactics to secure his son’s future.

The warm and lively family depicted in “Somewhere in Queens” could easily be neighbors to the Barones from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the iconic sitcom that propelled Romano to fame. While Laurie Metcalf’s portrayal of Angela is stern and distinctly Italian compared to Patricia Heaton’s character Deb, the dynamic between the harried housewife and the hapless husband remains familiar. The presence of an antagonistic brother and a boisterous, affectionate family constantly meddling in each other’s affairs further echoes the familiar setup. It’s this familial bond that imbues the film with its heartwarming essence.

While Italian families in media often lean towards the dramatic and sometimes even criminal, the portrayal of the Russo family in “Somewhere in Queens” takes a refreshing and relatable approach. Romano and co-writer Mark Stegemann meticulously craft a family that is both charming and hilarious in their everyday relatability. As someone of Croatian descent rather than Italian, I can still recognize the sacred tradition of early Sunday dinners, the frequent family gatherings centered around religious events, and the loud, affectionate, and sometimes intrusive nature of the Russo family—it resonates deeply with my own Mediterranean heritage.

From the outset, it’s evident that Leo harbors a sense of dissatisfaction with his life, which he channels into his aspirations for his son, Sticks. In a way, Leo’s midlife crisis manifests through his fervent desires for his son’s success. It’s reminiscent of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as Leo grapples with the realization of life’s true value, not through the intervention of an angel, but rather through his well-intentioned yet misguided attempts to secure his son’s future. While Leo’s actions and requests involving Sticks’ ex-girlfriend Dani (portrayed by Sadie Stanley) may seem questionable upon closer examination, the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the discomfort, choosing instead to confront it head-on rather than ignore it.

Leo’s obsession with Rocky, and his inclination to root for the underdog in the face of life’s challenges, serves as a prominent motif throughout “Somewhere in Queens.” However, unlike the grand scale of a Rocky film, the heart and tone of this story are more modest, focusing on personal struggles rather than epic triumphs. While the film tackles themes ranging from parental expectations to the aftermath of cancer survival, it maintains a relatively subdued quality. Even when Leo’s secrets are revealed during a drunken moment, there’s no grand reckoning with his father, nor is there a clear indication that he will permanently appreciate the value of what he has. Instead, “Somewhere in Queens” remains grounded in the everyday complexities of family life.

Romano demonstrates his directorial skill through a simple yet effective approach to framing in “Somewhere in Queens.” He adeptly captures the essence of the Russo family’s everyday existence, imbuing each scene with a sense of authenticity and normalcy. Whether depicting the lush greenery of a college campus or the familiar surroundings of a kitchen, Romano’s direction highlights the subtleties of human relationships and delivers naturalistic performances from his cast. While the film may lack visually stunning moments, Romano’s keen focus on human connection ensures that each scene resonates with sincerity.

While the title “Somewhere in Queens” may suggest a focus on the hometown setting, it’s the performances that truly steal the spotlight. From Angela’s poignant admission of her fears about losing time with her son to Leo’s gradual self-discovery regarding his commitment to his wife, the acting in this film shines brightly. Sadie Stanley emerges as a breakout star with her portrayal of Dani, effortlessly capturing the character’s internal conflict with subtle gestures and expressions. Whether it’s a furrowed brow or a sidelong glance, Stanley vividly brings Dani’s humanity and complexity to life on screen.

As the mid-budget movie landscape feels increasingly endangered, it’s difficult to label “Somewhere in Queens” as forgettable, though it does tread familiar ground. The film offers quiet charm and delivers heartfelt insights into the dynamics between fathers and sons, as well as the notion of legacy. However, it falls short of breaking new ground or offering revelatory insights. Romano draws from the familiar beats of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” swapping out the comedy for a bittersweet melancholy. For fans of Romano’s previous work, the film may resonate with its portrayal of dysfunction and enduring love, but it ultimately lacks innovation.

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