By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 29, 2011 at 4:10AM
One might not think one could derive a worthwhile feature-length documentary from writer-producer Phil Rosenthal’s experiences trying to recreate his hit TV series Everybody Loves Raymond in Russia…but one would be wrong. This highly entertaining film not only explores clashing cultures but provides disarming insights into the art of collaboration and the very nature of comedy.
Everybody Loves Raymond has been successful because it mines abundant comedy material out of recognizable situations within the family dynamic. At the outset of this documentary, Rosenthal visits his parents in Westchester county, New York, to give us a glimpse of the people who helped shape his sense of humor (as a survival tool, one gathers).
When he arrives in Russia, where Sony executives have paved the way for a Soviet Raymond to be produced, he quickly realizes that—
—he’s on a steep learning curve. First and foremost, he finds that his new collaborators believe reality-based comedy is too dull to appeal to the Russian people. It wouldn’t be fair to give much more away. Suffice it to say that some aspects of our cultures, including the creation of television shows, are remarkably similar while others couldn’t be more different.
Rosenthal took two camera crews along so he could preserve the spontaneity of his experiences. Other hilarious moments are built up through clever (but not deceptive) editing and use of music.
Aside from being very funny, Exporting Raymond has an important lesson to impart about personal diplomacy. Rosenthal looks as if he could crack at any number of moments during his Russian sojourn, but he holds himself together and never resorts to overt anger or name-calling. He just wants his show to be good—and funny. His new film about the experience certainly is.