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Austin Film Festival 2010 Review: EXPORTING RAYMOND

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
April 29th, 2011

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on October 22, 2010 as an Austin Film Festival review.

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer: Philip Rosenthal
Director: Philip Rosenthal
Cast: Philip Rosenthal
Executive Producer: John Woldenberg

First and foremost I have to be totally honest - I am not a fan of Everybody Loves Raymond. Granted, my exposure has been limited to commercials and the odd scene I would witness every now and then when living with my parents. So maybe I never gave it a fair shot. Or maybe it just was not for me when it made its debut on TV, I was a 16-year-old high school student more concerned with the drop date of the next Sunny Day Real Estate album than family matters. Now, 14 years later, I am only very slightly more interested in such things but after seeing EXPORTING RAYMOND, I'm ready to give Everybody Loves Raymond another chance.

Russia wants to love Raymond. That is how it begins. They have already imported other American sitcoms such as The Nanny, turning them into screwball, singularly Russian TV comedies. Phillip Rosenthal, creator/writer/director/producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, takes on the challenge of adapting his own show for a Russian audience. He flies to Moscow, meets his driver and his translator and is immediately thrust into a culture clash. At every turn he is met with resistance - the costume designer wants the characters to wear up-and-coming fashions, the head writer does not understand why the script is funny and the head of the Russian studios (as well as a world renowned actor/theater master) conspire to block Rosenthal's casting decisions. Forced to quickly adapt to less-than-ideal conditions (such as a crumbling studio that looks more like a prison than a sound stage), Rosenthal never loses sight of the elements of his show he knows made it popular. Instead, as he learns about and begins to understand the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences between our culture and theirs regarding what he believes to be a mostly universal dynamic - the quirks of the modern family - Rosenthal realizes his must pick and chose his battles. Some things can be translated, others must be made wholly Russian.

EXPORTING RAYMOND is not necessarily a documentary aiming to deliver a strong message, though one does peek through by the end. Instead, the film stands on its own as one of the funniest comedies of the year, full of an awkward collection of wonderful characters - each new Russian crew member adds another comedic element - and uncomfortable situations. In the center of it all is Rosenthal himself. His wide-eyed reactions to the predicaments in which he finds himself are always hilarious, he is his own best character. Not only is he funny, he is a true hero for the audience. Where a normal person tasked with making this adaptation work would have quickly backed out, head hung in dejection, Rosenthal truly and honestly believes in his show and wants nothing more than to understand the barriers he must face. Make no mistake, watching Rosenthal stumble and run into seemingly non-stop obstacles is where most of the gut-busting laughter is derived, but watching him pull through brings the well-deserved cheers and the applause.

Like most great documentaries of its ilk, EXPORTING RAYMOND does not rely on talking heads but instead follows a normal dramatic arc to tell its story. The audience is introduced to Everybody Loves Raymond and then Rosenthal himself. He visits his family (who inspired his characters) and we get a sense of who he is, where he came from and where he draws his inspirations. Once in Russia, each person he meets becomes an honest-to-goodness character in the story, the most touching being his driver with whom Rosenthal builds the strongest, funniest and most touching relationship. We are treated to glimpses into each step in the process of bringing Everybody Loves Kostya to life and, in turn, witness conflicts as they arise. Through all the comedy, Rosenthal's steadfastness is what carries the weight of "plot" and in a brilliant moment near the end of the film, there is a scene that mirrors his visit with his family at the beginning of the film. It is this scene that solidifies everything Rosenthal has put his faith into - Russian families are more or less the same and audiences should enjoy a show unlike any other Russian comedy up to that point - one grounded in reality. Once he realizes this and (painfully) discovers that show business is show business wherever he goes, he is able to push forward with renewed vigor and better connect with his Russian counterparts. The message becomes clear to him and us.

If you are skeptical about going into a documentary that is ostensibly about Everybody Loves Raymond, you should drop all apprehension now. It is unlikely you will see a funnier film this year and I'm hard-pressed to think of a funnier documentary in recent years. Through all the engrossing behind the scenes business to which we are treated, the sometimes awkward, sometimes hilarious friction caused by cultural differences and touching new relationships that are formed it is Phil Rosenthal that is our everyman, our quick-witted confident hero. You could not script a better character were you to make this as a fiction film and I sincerely hope we see much more of him in front of the camera in the near future. While I'm no more family oriented than I was in high school, I perhaps understand and appreciate that dynamic a bit more and after watching EXPORTING RAYMOND and gaining an understanding of the real people and universal themes behind the show, I think I'm ready to give Everybody Loves Raymond another shot.

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  • Maxhelen

    what an excellent comment on exporting raymond

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