The Palace of Versailles – not the historic residence near Paris – is one such place. You know, a dazzling venue for rent for celebrating weddings, confirmations, and any rites of passage that require dinner and a DJ. For Italian-American New Yorkers in Somewhere in Queens, it is not just a place but a way of life, both a necessary community playground and an affectionate joke. As its title suggests, the film embraces generic types, but clever writing, unforced direction, and a superb cast give the sentimental but not gushing comedic drama the messy detail and narrative friction to take it far beyond what was done. .
Working from a screenplay he wrote with Mark Stegemann, Ray Romano directs his feature debut with confidence, concerned not with stamping the material with cinematic capital C style, but with capturing its essence, pulling performances from aces of seasoned pros and newcomers alike. He plays Leo Russo, a nice schlub-adjacent boy. He has been married to his high school girlfriend (Laurie Metcalf) for many years and has spent his entire adult life working at the construction company owned by his alpha male father (Tony Lo Bianco). His son (Jacob Ward) is about to graduate from high school and enter the family business. When we first see Leo, he’s part of the extended clan at the Palace of Versailles, being dissented by a wedding videographer as well as nearly everyone at his table.
Somewhere in Queens
Shoot and mark.
On the job at Russo Construction, a brother’s smug asshole, Frank (Sebastian Maniscalco), weighs his weight as a foreman, while friendly pal and co-worker Petey (Jon Manfrellotti) knows how to ease the strain. Leo can’t communicate with his dad, and he mistakenly believes the lines of communication are wide open with his 18-year-old son, Matthew, aka Sticks, the star of his school’s basketball team. He dreams of seeing Sticks, who inherited Leo’s mistrust, in heroic mode on the pitch. “He’s different there,” Leo assures his father, who listens but doesn’t understand.
When an opportunity arises for a basketball scholarship to the University of Philadelphia, Leo is more excited than his son, and certainly more than his wife, Angela, a badass who tends to be angry and suspicious. , practical and wise, and still struggling with unexplored fears just a few years after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. Leo and Angela are both stunned when they find out that Sticks has a girlfriend, but while Leo is slightly bedazzled by Danielle’s (Sadie Stanley) self-confidence, the skeptical Angela takes a moment to dislike him.
The chemistry between Ward and Stanley is sweet and strong, generating compelling sparks between Sticks’ loving awkwardness and Danielle’s experience. Bold and talkative, she makes an impression at the rowdy Russos’ usual Sunday afternoon dinner table, where Mama Russo (June Gable) urges “Mangia tutti!” and love insults fly fast and furiously, especially between Frank and his sister Rosa (Dierdre Friel, Physical), who is single and still lives with the people.
At the same time as his son is in the throes of first love, Leo feels seen like he hasn’t in years, thanks to the flirtatious attention of a widowed client, Pamela (Jennifer Esposito, perfect). As the story progresses, it focuses on how parents can project their own hopes and dreams onto their children, culminating in a spectacularly clumsy ruse led by Leo that is meant to blow up in his face. .
From the first to the last moment, the script by Romano and Stegemann, who worked together on the TNT series Older mencaptures the way people talk, from the “indifferent” to the wise humor, to how Danielle is quick to point out that she’s not from the usual fastidious “posh part” of Forest Hills Gardens of Leo to quote from Rocky.
In this story of medieval calculation and adolescent awakening, there are plenty of moments of selfishness disguised as solicitude. Almost everyone is wrong, almost everyone means well, and no one is simply one or the other. Just as the concept work of Annie Simeone Morales and Megan Stark Evans never announces itself, so the camera work of Maceo Bishop and the editing of Robert Nassau are deservedly naturalistic and understated. Whether it’s a conversation in a car, a meltdown in a doctor’s office, suspense on a basketball court, or interpersonal drama in the stands, everything about the film makes the characters shine – and there is not one that is not. .
Led by Romano and Metcalf, with their well-established knack for playing “ordinary” people, the ensemble finds the characters’ beating and nervous hearts. Nobody gets away with it completely, and everyone learns a thing or two. Some of the lessons are tough, but they’re softened by Romano’s penchant for character. The most predictable and obvious thing about the movie is how it favorably contrasts Leo’s well-meaning foot-to-mouth and big, boisterous family with Danielle’s cold, absent, well-to-do parents.
As a native of Forest Hills (not the gardens, and certainly not the posh part), I wonder about the title of the film. People from Brooklyn might say they’re from Brooklyn, but I’ve always known people from Queens to say they’re from Jamaica or Middle Village or Long Island City or Astoria. Romano mostly avoids location specifics, though anyone familiar with the borough will recognize the general setting of the Russos’ saga. Perhaps this vague “Somewhere” is an embrace, a universal Palace of Versailles of the mind: Gather here to celebrate milestones, play your prescribed role, and know where you belong – until something gives way and another place looms.