Somewhere in Queens is a much more subdued directorial debut than expected from Ray Romano. The comedian and sitcom star incorporates humor – including the best last line so far this year – yet goes for a more tender, everyday vibe. Movies that feel like real life are rewarding when pulled off correctly. Romano certainly pulls it off. If this story doesn’t warm your heart at least a little bit, you might be dead inside.
He stars as Leo Russo, a guy from Queens who works in the family construction business alongside father Dominic (Tony Lo Bianco) and brother Frank (Sebastian Maniscalco), neither of whom value his contributions. The joy in his world comes from attending high school basketball games because his son “Sticks” (Jacob Ward) is the star player. Leo and wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) get a surprise after one such game, when a talent scout suggests Sticks is good enough to get a college scholarship. It has always been assumed that he, too, would join the family business after graduation. Now looking at the possibility of a greater option for his son, Leo starts pushing in that direction.
Sticks goes along with it, partially intrigued and partially to placate his dad. A complication arises when he starts dating Dani Brooks (Sadie Stanley). Without divulging anything, she stands to derail the dream. Not Sticks’s dream, Leo’s. We realize quickly that Leo wants his son to achieve in a certain way, a way he has not achieved. His efforts lead to conflict with Angela, his extended family, and the boy he’s rightly proud of.
The comedy in Somewhere in Queens comes from the little details, like how Leo’s Italian-American family engages in the age-old ritual of “busting each other’s balls.” Similarly funny is Angela’s inherent distrust of Dani. She’s put off by the girl’s bubbly personality, assuming it hides ulterior motives. This being a Ray Romano project, there are acerbic exchanges of dialogue throughout. The film undeniably has funny moments.
What stands out, however, is the attention paid to the emotions of the characters. Angela is afraid her cancer has come back, which may color her attitude toward the relentlessly cheery Dani. Sticks, who we learn was shy as a kid and didn’t talk to outsiders, suddenly finds himself with a girlfriend who brings him out of his shell but is also more worldly than he is. Leo recognizes that he’s stuck in Queens, working a job he doesn’t love alongside condescending family members. A drive is there to prevent Sticks from ending up in the same place. These dynamics are the heart of Somewhere in Queens, with the occasional jokes supplementing them.
The movie largely plays out in a believable fashion. With two or three exceptions, most notably an unlikely, out of place interaction between Leo and a widow (Jennifer Esposito) whose house he works on, the story developments have a wonderful ring of truth. You don’t find a lot of manipulation or false drama created to get from one point to the next. Events transpire organically, like life itself.
The performances are excellent. Sadie Stanley is a real find, projecting a wide range of conflicting feelings as Dani. She’s a dynamo. Laurie Metcalf once again proves her brilliance at mining the interior workings of her characters. During a scene where Angela is angry at Leo, the actress says more with a look than many performers could with a full monologue. Romano’s terrific, as well, especially as Somewhere in Queens winds to its poignant finale. Spending 106 minutes with these people is a treat. You genuinely care about where they end up.
out of four
Somewhere in Queens is rated R for language and some sexual material. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.