Review: Somewhere in Queens Offers a Heartfelt Glimpse into Tight Family Life

Profiling a familiar family dynamic, but with unexpectedly heartfelt and emotional results, director/co-writer/star Ray Romano makes his feature directing debut with Somewhere in Queens, the story of lovable loser Leo Russo (Romano), who lives in Queens and works for the family construction business founded by his father (Tony Lo Bianco) and run by his younger brother (Sebastian Maniscalco). From what we gather, Leo has always been the odd man out in his family. He’s not a particularly savvy businessman, which is why his brother runs the show, and he’s never been one to voice a strong opinion, so even his father doesn’t fully respect him.

But the one thing he did do right in his life was marry a strong woman in Angela (Laurie Metcalf) and father a talented, if cripplingly shy, son who everyone calls Sticks (Jacob Ward), because he’s tall and plays basketball quite impressively. Leo has put a lot of his own hopes on Sticks, so when a college talent scout mentions to the family that Sticks might have a shot at a basketball scholarship at a smaller college, Leo can’t help but get excited. Sticks was going to just join the family business after high school, but this shot at college gives his immediate family something that outshines other members of the Russo clan.

Parts of Somewhere in Queens will feel quite familiar as Romano (and co-writer Mark Stegemann) tackle the ins and out of a close-knit, Italian-American family and friend circle, where every weekend there’s somebody celebrating something and everyone is into everyone else’s business. Apparently, there are no secrets in Queens. But other parts of the film venture into more compelling material, including Angela still emotionally reeling from a recent cancer diagnosis. She’s cancer free but still stings from having to confront her own brush with death—she’s not a woman who confronts much in her life head on.

The film also centers on Sticks’ relationship with new girlfriend Dani (Sadie Stanley), who is introduced to the family and becomes somewhat integrated into that world, which is quite different from her own home life of absentee parents that we never even meet. This being Sticks’ first girlfriend, he falls hard for her, something that scares her a bit since she’s planning to leave town after graduation in a few weeks. She breaks things off with him, and that shock threatens to derail his college plans; apparently, Sticks can’t play when he’s sad and the college tryouts are in a few days. In a bit of well-meaning but misguided interference, Leo goes to Dani’s house and asks her to keep dating his son, at least until the tryouts are over. She reluctantly agrees, but of course, we know at some point Sticks and everyone else is going to discover the truth.

That particular portion of Somewhere in Queens might seem familiar to those who saw last year’s I Love My Dad. It’s not quite as extreme in its execution but the vibe is similar. The biggest difference is that the father and son in that film are estranged, whereas in this movie, Leo and Sticks are especially close, to the point where Leo even gets people shouting his name at his son’s basketball games. The emotional components of Queens hit harder than you might expect, and I’m still not quite used to seeing Romano as a proper dramatic actor, but I guess that’s on me because he turns in a genuinely powerful performance, both as a man lacking confidence in his own strengths and as a father trying to spare his son his greatest hurt.

It should come as no surprise that Metcalf is the film’s not-so-secret weapon, who begins the film denying everything that might impact her emotionally, including support groups for cancer survivors, and slowly transforms into someone who realizes that in order to save her marriage and family, she has to take down those walls ever so slightly. Metcalf excels at tough but vulnerable roles like she invented the work. Her performance typifies Somewhere in Queens, a film that arrives in the guise of a comedy but evolves into a deeper and more impactful family drama.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.