Exporting Raymond Review: Glasnost In Translation
It's easy to how Ray Romano's comedy sketches could be baked into the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" by Phil Rosenthal simply by listening to him for five minutes. He's this grousing blend of Ray Barone and Woody Allen. He refers to his childhood home as the hell where most of his life was spent in misery. He visits with his parents to tell them he's going to Russia, and then videotapes them amusingly bickering as they attempt to use the computer to show him the slideshow from their trip to Russia. Rosenthal's mocking them, but you can also tell how much everyone cares about each other. It's all very adorable -- and a major chunk of the film is devoted to Rosenthal plaintively and yet endearingly pointing out how his wacky family is like the wacky family in Raymond and how Raymond is about the wacky commonplace arguments that all families have.
This doesn't exactly fly with the Russians. In 2004, they bought the rights to the Fran Drescher sitcom "The Nanny," which when modified for Russian audiences became a runaway hit and spawned versions of "The Nanny" in various countries. Of course, the Russian version of "The Nanny," or at least the few clips we see in the film, is more like a Cinderella story with zanier madcap humor. While Rosenthal tries to explain that "Everybody Loves Raymond" is about a schlep who gets dominated by the women in his life, particularly his stay-at-home mom wife, he runs into immediate problems with the Russian production staff. The costumer wants to dress the wife in elaborately dressy fashionista outfits, because this is what Russian wives aspire to. The writers hate the Raymond character because they don't find him to be macho enough. Rosenthal spends most of the film sighing with exasperation and bemoaning the fact that they aren't getting it. Most of the film is Rosenthal kvetching and bitching and moaning about everything. Granted, it's easy to see his frustration. They clearly don't understand the concept of the show, they're just going on name recognition, and every time they seem to take a positive step forward, they end up taking two or three back.
For a film purporting to be a behind the scenes on trying to make a sitcom, there's really not a whole lot of access and openness to the process. Most of the film is just shots of Rosenthal sighing and griping. He'll sit in on meetings with executives, including a network Director of Comedy who doesn't think the show is particularly funny. Rosenthal consistently mugs for the camera and says, "At least studio execs are the same the world round." Again, it's all particularly done up like a safe sitcom, with no real insight or arguments show on camera. Not that I'm expecting some sort of reality television level of chairs being thrown, and hair-pulling fistfights in dark alleyways. The stakes are never high, and there's hardly any drama. Then again, the subject is "Everybody Loves Kostya," so you expect a certainly level of middling vanilla. The film comes in at under 90 minutes, and most of that seems like odd situational filler -- strange touristy montages of Rosenthal sightseeing, or the entire side bit with Rosenthal's driver.
Exporting Raymond ends up being amusing enough, and it's got just enough behind the scenes to be generally entertaining. I feel like if you're a big fan of the show, you'll enjoy the documentary with just the same aplomb. I never was a massive fan, so I was just kind of tittering mildly to myself. The audience I saw it with was full of older married Jewish people, and so they laughed deeply and broadly. Rosenthal was a bit nebbishy for my tastes, but clearly he was playing to his crowd. Exporting Raymond isn't quite the groundbreaking and fascinating documentary I would have hoped, but it would make a nice extra feature on the series DVD set.
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