As a comedian, Ray Romano already conquered the world. Everybody Loves Raymond earned its place as one of the comedies of its era. His standup earned him acclaim and regular appearances on The Late Show. Now, he’s stepped into the director’s chair to open a new chapter. His directorial debut Somewhere in Queens plays on his strengths as a performer and storyteller. Yet his approach to complicated subject matter helps a fairly straightforward indie drama crackle to life.
Somewhere in Queens follows Leo, a man working for his father to support his family. His wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) struggles with anxiety after beating cancer. His son “Sticks” (Jacob Ward) surprises a scout at a basketball game. The scout puts Sticks on a small college’s radar. However, before the tryout, his girlfriend Dani (Sadi Stanley) breaks up with him. When Lou thinks Sticks’ depression will cause him to miss a golden opportunity, he offers to give Dani money to continue dating his son.
Romano pushes Somewhere in Queens to reckon with its misguided characters. Romano co-wrote the film with Mark Stegemann, and the two provide plenty of plot to add depth to the world. Placing the story in the blue-collar suburbs of Queens also gives Romano a chance to flex his home turf. The comedian plays blue-collar characters regularly, and he imbues his hope for his son into the performance.
At no point does Romano ever lose control of the film. Comedically, it hits many of the same beats as his show, yet dramatically, there’s far more development. The pacing is perfect, and the plot is intricate enough to stand out. The cross between Can’t Buy Me Love, and Varsity Blues becomes an extremely heartfelt understanding of parental figures in sports.
Romano’s Lou takes center stage for most of the film. Lou does not get good guy treatment. In fact, Romano ensures his character acts selfishly throughout Somewhere in Queens. It explores the complicated feelings that parents feel while watching their children in athletic competitions. On one hand, we recognize the ability for teens to change their life through athletics. Even as we know how unlikely achieving a career in professional sports will be, hope springs eternal.
Yet what helps Somewhere in Queens step away from sports films about achievement is how Romano’s Lou lives vicariously through his son. Every moment of athletic greatness and triumph becomes Lou’s triumph. The way other parents and kids treat him helps him feel good. While he struggles to earn support from his father and brother, these moments become a reward to him. As long as his son plays, he too has value. It’s a fascinating psychological exploration and explains why Romano felt so compelled to make this his directorial debut.
In addition to Romano’s complicated turn, Metcalf once again proves herself in a class by herself. While her husband attempts to push every door open to create a sense of family glory, Metcalf’s Angela wishes to pull her son in tighter. After her own battles with mortality and cancer, her son’s choice to spend time with another woman further threatens her place. This too comes from an act of selfishness, but unlike Lou, Angela possesses the self-awareness to see it as such.
Metcalf imbues the character with energetic anxiety. She delivers one-liners better than any actress alive. The comedy and frustration she wears on her face showcases her impeccable facial acting. Metcalf can shift the entire emotion of a scene with a simple expression, and Somewhere in Queens provides her with material every bit as complicated as her Lady Bird performance.
However, while Romano and Metcalf elevate Somewhere in Queens with their performances, the rest of the cast struggles to keep up. Oftentimes, they lean into the caricatures of an Italian family. Rather than provide more nuance among these characters, they become easy comedy vessels, but it also causes the film to lose some of its poignancy. Jon Manfrellotti and Tony Lo Bianco stand out for their emotional connections to Romano’s character, but few others do.
The Ward and Stanley relationship bears some fruit but ultimately feels like it’s missing something. Stanley gets the more complicated arc, while Ward plays into the awkwardness of high school life. Each gets standout moments, but there’s an undeniable feeling there was something more to extract here. Somewhere in Queens needs a little more from these performances but also lacks in the screenplay department as well.
Somewhere in Queens impresses, both as Romano’s debut and as a complicated look at the world of high school athletics. Trauma and frustrations with parenting continue to find their way into the mainstream. Stories like this one help us understand the errors of our ways while providing an honest portrayal of all involved. The nuance with which Romano directs makes us very excited for his next directorial swing.