Somewhere in Queens
Aside from his and costar Laurie Metcalf's performances, Ray Romano's directorial debut is pretty lame.
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While watching actor-comedian Ray Romano’s directorial debut, Somewhere in Queens, hardly a minute went by where I didn’t feel like I’d seen this movie before.
The film is centered on two parents trying to navigate their relationship with their son in the face of his coming of age and deciding what he wants to do with his life. Familiar, but OK—not everything needs to reinvent the wheel.
Romano plays Leo, a bumbling, emotionally inarticulate, clumsily loving dad. Well, y’know, play to your strengths, I guess.
Laurie Metcalf plays his wife, Angela, a sick-of-the-bullshit mom who wants the best for her kid but can’t let go of her idea of what that is. Alright, hold on a minute…
If any of that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen, uh… (checks notes), just about any of Romano’s or Metcalf’s more popular work. And if that’s the case, then nothing that spins out of that premise over Queens’ 100 minutes is likely to surprise you.
Staying within your wheelhouse, especially on your first outing as director, is not a damning sin, by any means. And Somewhere in Queens is not a bad film. But it doesn’t exactly leave a lasting impression two or three decades into the accomplished careers of two well-known performers.
Leo and Angela’s son Matthew (Jacob Ward), whom their large and boisterous New York-Italian family refers to as “Sticks,” is the talented star of his modest high school basketball team. He’s getting ready to finish high school, and needs to decide what the next step is. He could either follow in his dad’s footsteps, joining his grandfather’s landscaping business straight out of school, or, as a college scout (P.J. Byrne) tells Leo after one of Sticks’ games, he could try to pursue a college education on the payroll of his hoop skills. Sticks isn’t good enough for a big-shot university like Syracuse, the scout says, but he could probably make waves (and money) at a respectable smaller school.
Leo’s not crazy about the family-business path he took for himself, constantly derided as a screw-up by his brothers and cousins. So he sees, in college ball, an opportunity for Sticks to make another, better choice. A choice so appealing—to Leo, anyway—that he might just have to make his son’s choice for him.
But for the time being, Sticks is not terribly concerned about where he goes from here. He’ll go along with his dad’s idea of visiting Drexel University in hopes of getting a scholarship, but his real focus is his new girlfriend, Dani (Sadie Stanley). All he really wants to do is be with her and write her poems. But when one of his poems expresses a bit too much emotional intimacy for Dani’s liking, she breaks things off.
Knowing how much the heartbreak is distracting Sticks from his preparation for the recruiting visit, Leo cuts a deal with Dani to mend the relationship, at least until after the tryout.
And so goes this typical coming-of-age parent drama. The comedy, in true Romano fashion, is understated and dry, mostly delivered through his characteristic “Ah, shucks, I didn’t mean ta say that,” awkwardness. It works well enough, for the most part—I mean, at this point, I think I’d be concerned for Romano’s health if it didn’t—but it’s not especially laugh-worthy. The little bits of over-the-top comedy we do get come mostly from Leo’s relatives: a bunch of raunchy, opinionated loudmouths.
Metcalf is likely the closest thing this movie has to a scene-stealer, adopting a heavy New York-Italian accent and owning the movie’s biggest blow-ups with confident and layered vulnerability, as she’s known for. Stanley also stands out with an alluring mix of quick, intelligent charm and down-to-earth openness. I don’t think I’ve seen her before, but I hope she pops up more often (and in better projects) in the future.
Romano is no stranger to more emotionally complex films and performances, however, knocking it out of the park in movies like Paddleton and The Big Sick. So it’s all the more disappointing that he wasn’t able to find fresher or more resonant ground in his directorial debut. Here, his grander emotional beats amount to, “I’m bein’ an asshole; sorry ‘bout that,” delivered with all the poignance of an average Everybody Loves Raymond episode.
There’s nothing intellectually offensive or shockingly bad about Somewhere in Queens. It’s just a modest, mundane dramedy with no sense of emotional exploration or comedic experimentation. And that might be fine for casual or background viewing. But when your two main players have, between them, probably more than a dozen better renditions of these same performances and stories under their belts, there’s no reason to pick this one off the shelf over those.