Not everybody loves Raymond or in this case, Leo Russo played by Ray Romano, whose firecracker wife Angela (a terrific Laurie Metcalf), a cancer survivor, keeps him on the defensive as they deal with their introverted basketball star son Sticks (Jacob Ward) who is contending with first love, heartbreak, and life after high school. On the flip side, Leo is coping with a father (Tony Lo Bianco) who underappreciates his role in the family’s construction business, and a condescending brother (Sebastian Maniscalco) making “Somewhere in Queens” a memorable directorial debut by Romano who co-wrote the film with his “Men of a Certain Age” collaborator Mark Stegemann.

“Chummy as an art form” aptly describes Ray Romano. We all know he’s a good actor beyond the small screen (“The Irishman,” “The Big Sick,” “Bad Education”) and it’s satisfying seeing him front and center for an hour and forty-seven minutes with a performance that expands his buddy-buddy persona outside its comfort zone. But who knew that he was also a viable director who knows how to move a story forward while balancing the drama and comedy, never letting one overshadow the other.

Every time 6’2″ Matthew “Sticks” Russo (Ward) hits the high school basketball court he looks for his dad Leo (Romano) in the stands and points to him. The introverted 18-year-old is just acknowledging his father’s role in making him the school’s star athlete. We later learn that Leo was never interested in molding an athlete. He bought a hoop to help his awkwardly social son come out of his shell. The two would spend hours practicing together daily through childhood.

Despite Sticks’ ability on the court, the family never considered college as a part of their son’s future. He was destined to join the family’s construction business. Then one day a scout approaches Leo and Angela and discusses the possibility of Sticks getting an athletic scholarship, “If you want me to make a few phone calls there might be a hole here or there.” Suddenly, Leo begins to see a way for his son to escape the humiliation of working for his father Dominic or ‘Pop’ (Lo Bianco), and brother Frank (Maniscalco) who treat Leo like a screwup.

Dani (Sadie Stanley) enters the picture as Sticks’ girlfriend, which comes as a shock to his parents. Metcalf is hilarious as the outspoken Angela whose reaction to any girl showing her son affection is usually, “Who’s this whore?” The overprotective mom fears losing her son, feelings that were amplified after being diagnosed with cancer. She beat it but is still paranoid that it could return despite the doctor assuring her that she is cancer-free.

It’s refreshing to see an average Italian American family with no connections to the mob. Romano and Stegemann’s script which was inspired by Romano’s in-laws is filled with wonderful moments as the large family embraces its heritage leading to enjoyable scenes as they get together for Sunday dinners and celebrations at The Versailles banquet hall. As we all know, when families get together it can lead to disagreements and we get to see plenty of those real moments including a doozy where Angela, Sticks, and the rest of Leo’s family turn their backs on him after he confesses to doing something devious for the sake of his son. Jennifer Esposito has a role as a hot widow who has eyes for Leo. The flirtation between the two is the film’s only false note, although Esposito turns out a solid performance.

“Somewhere in Queens” has plenty of heart and while it strays into a few melancholy moments, the film remains uplifting thanks to the humor, most of it courtesy of Laurie Metcalf’s rambunctious performance and Ray Romano’s loveable goof who quotes “Rocky” movies. His favorite line, “Aint gonna be no rematch.” I also enjoyed the performance by Sadie Stanley (who resembles a young Julia Stiles) as the free-spirited Dani. The complexity of her character is never fully explored. We know she has a troubled life at home, we just don’t see it. It would have been interesting to see what makes her tick. Still, it’s a funny, heartfelt, and charming film.

(3 stars)

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