All things considered, Ray Romano’s “Somewhere in Queens” is a pretty watchable dramedy despite all the “lows” that hang over it.
It’s low-heat and downbeat, with low stakes and low ambition. The situations are low on originality and the jokes are strictly low-hanging fruit.
“Queens” is about a sensitive New York teen his gregarious extended Italian-American family calls “Harpo Marx,” because the “kid hasn’t made a sound since his baptism.”
But “Sticks” (Jacob Ward), so named because he’s been tall (ish) and skinny most of his life, is a pretty good passing and shooting point guard at his local high school. That’s where he comes out of his shell, just a bit, and the attention of his supportive dad (Romano) has made the family popular at school. Dad Leo may be just another laborer at his father’s constriction business, but this attention’s made him the most “famous” he’s ever been.
Amazingly, nobody ever thought that Matthew, aka “Sticks,” could take his talents to college. “Somewhere in Queens” is about that possibility coming up, a chance to go to Drexel U. in Philly.
Yeah, “one of the recruits got Lyme Disease,” is how Leo puts it. “We got lucky.”
“Somewhere in Queens” a big extended family has built its life around home ownership, a family business that takes in all of the menfolk, big Sunday dinners that are a staple of movie and TV Italian-American families, and events at the local hall for hire, Versailles Palace, because “Italians gotta celebrate every f—in’ thing.”
That’s another characteristic of this tale. Stand-up and belovedly hapless TV dad/son Romano has everybody and anybody unload a lifetime of f-bombs in his starring, co-writing and screen directing debut.
Because Italians and “Queens,” amIright?
And there are secrets. Sticks has a bubbly, take-the-intiative girlfriend (Sadie Stanley) that he hasn’t told the folks about. She’s invited to Sunday dinner, impresses and raises eyebrows. And Mom (Laurie Metcalf, terrific as always) takes an instant dislike to this secret and this girl who must have pursued her anxiety-ridden, super shy son.
Angela has her own issues, hinted at by people who remark about how “your hair grew back, just as curly” and her testy reactions to anything that alludes to what she’s been through.
And Leo? He may be the perpetually-tardy lump at Russo Construction, having to take a back seat to younger brother/foreman Frank (Frank Russo) in Dad’s (Tony Lo Bianco, classing up the joint) home improvement business. But he’s the one their latest hot widow client (Jennifer Esposito) hits on.
There is little here that we haven’t seen before in decades of movies set in this milieu. One new wrinkle has Dad interfering in the kid’s love life. But other than that…
Romano cast within his comfort zone — lots of TV actors (“Cosby Show” alum Geoffrey Owens among them), and wrote what he knows — Italian American shtick.
My recent gold or at least silver standard for this sort of indie (ish) family movie is “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” an even more formulaic Italian American coming-of-age tale with the same sorts of “first in the family to go to college” subtext, but wrapped in a more believable period piece set in the much more interesting and original coal country of Pennsylvania/West Va.
But there’s comfort food value in movies that don’t surprise us much, and that’s what Romano was reaching for here. After all, he’s made a pretty good living finding the funny in low-hanging fruit.
Rating: R for (profanity) and some sexual material
Cast: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Sadie Stanley, Jacob Ward, Jennifer Esposito, Frank Russo and Tony Lo Bianco.
Credits: Directed by Ray Romano, scripted by Ray Romano and Mark Stegeman. A Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:44