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.
Everybody knows (dare I say “loves”) Ray Romano for his standup comedy and television show “Everybody Loves Raymond, and while he’s no stranger to writing, he makes his directorial debut with an authentically poignant film “Somewhere In Queens” where he also stars. Wearing these three hats can be an arduous task, but Romano walks this tightrope act with absolute finesse.
We meet Leo (Romano) at a family wedding reception where he seems to be in the background, his voice and thoughts never being heard. As he reluctantly wishes the newlyweds luck to the videographer, he is volunteered to be edited out…seems as if this might the story of his life. We also meet Leo and Angela’s (Laurie Metcalf) son, Sticks aka Matthew (Jacob Ward), a standout basketball player in high school. The family is a tight-knit one, and that’s an understatement, as Leo works for his father and brother in the family’s construction business…the place Sticks is destined to also work after high school. However, as luck would have it, Sticks finds that there is a possibility of attending college on a basketball scholarship which sends the entire family into a tizzy as to what this young talented boy should do.
All of this is taking place as we learn about the family history and the dynamics among the members. Angela has experienced her own battles, leaving scars, emotional and physical, on the entire family. And Sticks falls in love with Dani (Sadie Stanley) who wants only to experience all that life has to give her. Mom doesn’t like her one bit, but she makes quite an impact on the entire family! Sticks has some emotional baggage that both parents seem to want to shield him from possible disappointments which gets Leo into some rather sticky situations. The cringe-worthy complexity pushes the storyline into full tilt as we hang on to find out how things will resolve.
“Somewhere In Queens” is a complicated story yet a familiar one as each of the main characters attempt to grow and heal. Parenthood is difficult and life is never smooth but more like a series of potholes — some we see and avoid, others we hit straight on only to figure out how to stay on course — and we relate to Leo and Angela’s journey.
Leo is an incredibly rich character as Romano vividly yet subtly exposes his character’s inner thoughts and fear. It’s a journey of self-discovery particularly as he looks in the rearview mirror of life, clearly seeing his regrets and flaws. Leo has a heart of gold, but fears what will happen if he were to ever stand up for himself. His relationship with Angela is a typical one, but there’s an underlying current of helplessness in both of them as the attempt to regain a sense of normalcy after Angela’s struggles with breast cancer.
Family is at the heart of the film and while we can’t choose our family, we wouldn’t trade them for the world. Leo’s relationship with his father is a strained one and it’s apparent that Leo wants to change how he raises Sticks. Sticks is everything to Leo, but does he go too far as he blurs the lines between his own needs and his son’s? We see the angst in Leo as the intrinsic struggle continues until the emotional volcano erupts. It is at this point that Leo is allowed to look squarely in the mirror and truly see himself and his impact upon others.
“Queens” is such a beautiful and relatable story about life and navigating those potholes, bumps, and even roadblocks. Romano gives us a memorably dramatic performance with subtle nuances to portray the complexities of a real person…there’s not one element of superficiality to this character. The same is true for Metcalf as she worries about her son as well as her health. She’s strong and independent but there’s a softness within that allows us to connect with her. Stanley stands out brightly and the entire cast gels in perfect balance.
Finding an independent gem like “Somewhere In Queens” doesn’t happen often, but when it does, be sure to see it.
3 1/2 stars