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How to walk one’s talk ‘Somewhere in Queens’

“Somewhere in Queens” (2022 production, 2023 release). Cast: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Jacob Ward, Sadie Stanley, Tony Lo Bianco, June Gable, Dierdre Friel, Sebastian Maniscalco, Franco Maicas, Adam Kaplan, Jon Manfrellotti, Danny Garcia, Jennifer Esposito, P.J. Byrne, Geoffrey Owens, Erik Griffin, David St. Louis, Seth Barrish. Director: Ray Romano. Screenplay: Ray Romano and Mark Stegemann. Web site. Trailer.

It’s one thing to talk a good game, but it’s something else entirely to back it up with authentic action. Indeed, it’s a definitive example of being able to walk one’s talk, a practice that can be difficult to carry out, especially if preceded by exaggeration, deception or flat-out fabricated bragging. But, for those who are able to live up to their words, tremendous heartfelt satisfaction often results, particularly if our efforts benefit those we care about. Such are the questions explored in the delightful new domestic comedy, “Somewhere in Queens.”

The Russo family of Queens, NY is an honest, proud, hard-working, courageous lot (well, for the most part; at least that’s what they’d like to think). The family patriarch, Dominick “Pops” Russo (Tony Lo Bianco), runs a construction business employing his son, Frank (Sebastian Maniscalco), and his grandsons, Luigi (Franco Maicas) and Marco (Adam Kaplan), all of whose attitudes, perspectives and outlooks are more or less cut from the same street-smart, wise-cracking, rough-and-tumble cloth as Pops. Joining them in the business is Dominick’s other son, Leo (Ray Romano), a genuinely nice, sensitive man whose temperament and sensibilities are somewhat different from his dad, brother and nephews. And, because of this, Leo is often the target of ridicule and mocking from his relatives, but no one can question his work ethic, sincerity or concern for others, even if those qualities set him apart from other family members.

Thanks to his diligent efforts, Leo has managed to build a modestly comfortable life for his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf), and his reserved 18-year-old son, Matthew (a.k.a. “Sticks”) (Jacob Ward). He’s worked hard at achieving what he’s accomplished, even if the outcome hasn’t been especially glamorous, ritzy or flashy. But his compassion and concern for his family has truly been undeniable, even if not always understood or fully appreciated.

In particular, Leo has long been sensitive to Sticks’s needs given his terribly shy nature. Indeed, as Sticks has gotten older, Leo’s grown wary that his son’s inherently withdrawn character could end up inhibiting his access to promising life opportunities once he graduates high school, saddling him with an underwhelming future, one not unlike what Leo himself has experienced. Likewise, Leo’s also worried about Angela’s happiness and peace of mind. As a recent cancer survivor who’s been declared disease-free, she nevertheless worries her doctors may have missed something. It’s a lot for Leo to handle, but he does the best he can under the circumstances.

Proud parents and longtime spouses Leo and Angela Russo (Ray Romano, left, Laurie Metcalf, right) lead a modestly comfortable life amidst their share of challenges in the delightful new domestic comedy, “Somewhere in Queens,” available for streaming online. Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Thankfully, there have been some positive developments of late. Sticks has managed to find one activity that has helped bring him out of his shell – his love of basketball. He’s become a stellar performer on the court, too. In fact, a college recruiter (P.J. Byrne) informs Leo that his son may have a good shot at a sports scholarship – not at a big name school that could lead to professional aspirations but one that will at least provide an opportunity to cover the cost of Matthew’s education. Leo also learns – much to his surprise – that Sticks has taken up with a vivacious new girlfriend, Dani (Sadie Stanley), who appears to have significantly bolstered his personal confidence and self-esteem. Indeed, things could be looking up.

More good news comes when Angela learns through her most recent wellness screening that her latest cause for concern turns out to be a false alarm – scar tissue and not something more serious. It allows Leo to shower her with comfort and reassurance, the kind of support she so desperately needs at this time, especially when faced with the possibility that her only child may be moving away from home, leaving the house a little more empty than she’s accustomed to, Leo’s presence notwithstanding.

For the first time in a while, Leo looks upon the future more optimistically than he has in ages. But, just when it seems that he and his family have turned a corner, Sticks announces that he’s dropping his plans to pursue the scholarship. The reason? He’s devastated by the heartache of his breakup with Dani (one that she initiated), a sudden, unexpected development that has completely dowsed his enthusiasm. Needless to say, Sticks’s decision also devastates Leo, so he desperately seeks to make things right. He secretly approaches Dani and pleads with her to pose as Sticks’s girlfriend until his scholarship tryouts are complete, hoping that this will lift his spirits enough to motivate his performance. She reluctantly agrees, and Sticks reverses his decision. His practice sessions improve markedly and makes plans to resume his pursuit of the scholarship. Through it all, though, Leo and Dani are both on edge, hoping that their little plan succeeds, providing they can keep it under wraps. But will it? And what will it mean for everyone if it doesn’t?

Meanwhile, as this primary story thread plays out, a number of additional subplots unfold involving other members of the Russo family, such as the ongoing search for romance undertaken by Rosa (Dierdre Friel), Leo’s bubbly, plus-sized, unattached sister. Then there are the less-than-veiled flirtations of Pamela (Jennifer Esposito), a widowed client of the Russo family construction company who has bedroom eyes for one of its employees (i.e., Leo). And, of course, there are the uncertainties and insecurities that Angela and Leo wrestle with in light of the impending changes their household may soon experience.

Painfully shy high school senior Matthew “Sticks” Russo (Jacob Ward) may not have much to say but lets his performance on the basketball court do his talking for him, as seen in the debut feature of writer-actor-director Ray Romano, “Somewhere in Queens.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Of course, none of the foregoing is meant to suggest that “Somewhere in Queens” is all seriousness and heavy-handed drama. Quite the opposite. While the film has its profound, thoughtful moments, the story is peppered with delightful humor, much of it reminiscent of genuinely funny domestic comedies of the past. It especially brings to mind “Moonstruck” (1987), with its wickedly funny portrayal of Italian-American family life in the Big Apple, much of which factors into how matters eventually turn out.

But, just because seemingly good intentions underlie what’s transpiring in this story, that doesn’t mean there won’t be issues to resolve. And those intentions are rooted in the characters’ beliefs, an important consideration given the role that our beliefs play in the manifestation of the reality we experience. Such is the outcome of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible resources give birth to the existence around us. It’s not clear whether the Russos have ever heard of this school of thought, but its principles are certainly reflected in how their lives unfold.

If we hope to achieve the reality we want, it’s crucial that we operate from a standpoint of honesty and authenticity. And, even though the family likes to think it does so, there’s definite evidence to the contrary. For instance, in the interest of helping out his son, Leo is willing to go to great lengths to do so, a quality many of us would probably see as admirable. But is he really being caring and supportive by launching his clandestine plan to have Dani pose as Sticks’s girlfriend after their breakup? Because there’s an element of a lack of integrity imbedded in this scheme, Leo’s good intentions are being tainted by the absence of this critical component. It leaves the door open for his plan to potentially become compromised. It could become derailed by unforeseen, unintended side effects. Worse yet, it could fail completely, collapsing in a pile of disastrous consequences. Indeed, how is that helping?

But, to understand what’s afoot in this scenario, it’s important to recognize what’s really going on, and that requires an examination of the beliefs involved here – all of them. As becomes apparent, Leo engages in this plan not just for Sticks, but also for himself. He’s worried that, upon graduating high school, Sticks may be facing a fate not unlike his own. Leo fears that Sticks won’t be able to live a life of satisfaction and fulfillment, something he’s had to endure himself, and he doesn’t want to see his son subjected to such a discouraging future. It’s possible that Leo may also feel like something of a failure in terms of how he raised Sticks, not providing him with sufficient guidance to overcome his shyness and to set him on a path aimed at a wider range of opportunities and a greater degree of achievement. In essence, Leo’s fear of these eventualities have prompted him into taking more drastic measures.

Life can serve up some pleasant surprises, as longtime spouses Angela and Leo Russo (Laurie Metcalf, left, Ray Romano, right) find out for themselves in the delightful new domestic comedy, “Somewhere in Queens,” available for streaming online. Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

By its nature, fear is itself a form of belief, one that can seriously undercut one’s manifestation efforts. Its presence often contradicts one’s creative intentions, thwarting their materialization in part or in totality. That in itself could thus sabotage anything Leo hopes to accomplish through his questionable collaboration with Dani.

In a scenario like this, however, it’s important to remember that the efforts of multiple parties are in play. Consider those of Sticks, for example. For whatever reason, he’s chosen to be painfully shy and bought into beliefs that have made it happen. It may not be readily apparent why he has done so, either; his reasons are his own, and it’s really no one else’s business why he chose to do so. Perhaps there was some vital life lesson he wanted to learn through this creation. Or perhaps there was something else behind his manifestation efforts. Or perhaps his withdrawal was driven by apprehensions about the world around him, especially growing up amidst intimidating, often-outspoken relatives. In any event, though, his behavior was his creation, and there may have been nothing that Leo could have done to prevent it – or to overcome it. Leo’s fears in this regard, though understandable, could thus be patently unfounded.

Considering the fun-loving, freewheeling attitude that seems to pervade life in the extended Russo family, it could be that no one wants to admit having any perceivable apprehensions about anything. Such outlooks might be viewed as going against what’s expected of being a Russo. Indeed, as evidence of that, Leo has experienced firsthand what can happen when a family member acts differently from everyone else. Such treatment could inspire its share of anxiety – and go a long way toward shaping the beliefs, behavior and outlooks of other family members similarly situated.

In addition to the aforementioned beliefs underlying the perspectives of Leo and Sticks, consider the case of Angela. She, too, has her share of fear-based beliefs in her consciousness. Admittedly, she has legitimate cause for feeling that way given her recent health scare and her worry whether she is truly in the clear. But there’s more to it than that; she’s quietly apprehensive about Sticks getting the scholarship and going away to college, emptying the house of her only child. She almost feels as if she’s trading one ingrained fear for another. And, even though she dearly loves her husband, given his low-key demeanor, perhaps she’s uncertain whether or not he possesses the capability to make her feel secure in the face of these uncertainties.

The Russo family frequently gathers to celebrate its Italian-American pride as seen in the charming debut feature of writer-actor-director Ray Romano, “Somewhere in Queens.” Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

In light of the foregoing, one might legitimately wonder whether there are viable solutions to these issues, and that concern arguably merits consideration. However, answers may well be available, provided we take certain steps with respect to our beliefs. Specifically, solutions based on honesty, authenticity and integrity can go a long way toward resolving these matters. Because manifestations based on such beliefs aren’t tainted by considerations that could undermine them, they have a greater chance of unfettered success, yielding appropriate solutions without caveats or strings attached to them. That being the case, then, Leo, Sticks and Angela would all be best off by owning up to what they really feel and believe, putting those elements into practice in creating the outcomes they want. That’s essentially an act of walking one’s talk and, if employed correctly, could genuinely reflect the honest, proud, hard-working, courageous beliefs that the Russos hold about themselves – and truly mean it.

Genuinely funny family comedies – those without rampant silliness, obnoxiously cynical, smart-mouthed kids, and saccharine-encrusted coatings – have become a rarity in recent years, but, fortunately, this debut feature from actor-writer-director Ray Romano has breathed some new life into this genre. This film about the lives of a middle class, blue collar family in one of New York’s outer boroughs is a delightful though far from sappy offering very much in the mode of pictures that don’t get made much any more. It’s chock full of hilarious one-liners from a smartly written script executed with snappy direction, steadily paced editing and fine acting, especially the award-worthy performance of Laurie Metcalf as the athletic prodigy’s mother. The picture also presents one of the best-ever send-ups of traditional Italian-American family life, raucously funny without becoming riddled with stereotypes. To be sure, a few story threads would have been better cut out or scaled back, but, on balance, “Somewhere in Queens” serves up a charming, entertaining offering with a number of unexpected twists and turns to keep the material fresh and lively. The film may not have received much fanfare with its limited theatrical release earlier this year, but, thankfully, it’s available for streaming online and more satisfying than a big bowl of pasta. Abbondanza!

There are times when we care so deeply about others that we’re willing to do almost anything to help them out, even if we end up engaging in dubious ventures. But those intentions – no matter how good they may be – could wreak havoc if employed in less-than-honorable practices. It’s at times like that when we must weigh the consequences of our beliefs and actions against what can potentially result from them and then act in a principled manner. To pursue another course may yield outcomes more damaging than what we can imagine. And there’s no honor in that.

Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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