May 02, 2011

MOVIES: Exporting Raymond (Phil Rosenthal, 2011)

Phil Rosenthal was one of the producers of Everybody Loves Raymond, and in this documentary, he takes us to Moscow, where he's helping a Russian production company prepare the pilot for a Russian version of the show.

Rosenthal is sure that the show's family humor will translate to any culture, but things don't go as smoothly as he expects. The sitcom is a very new form in Russian television, and the Russian team struggles to find actors who can get the tone right. One early villain is the costume designer, who wants the show's housewife to be dressed in glamorous outfits ("to educate our women about fashion"), and can't understand Rosenthal's insistence that such clothes aren't appropriate for a woman who spends her days cleaning the house and dealing with kids.

There is a fair amount of "oh, those silly Russians" humor here that comes perilously close to ugly-Americanism (there are lots of yucks at the expense of the studio, a gloomy concrete building of which Rosenthal asks "do you know which room it was they filmed Saw in?"), and if you've seen one behind-the-scenes look at TV production, you won't find that the Russian version of the process is all that different from the American version.

Rosenthal is funny enough to keep the movie mildly amusing throughout, and I did find myself rooting for him to get through to his Russian colleagues. Not essential viewing, but if the subject interests you, you'll enjoy it, I suppose.

If you do see it, do stay for the closing credits. One of the movie's best jokes comes at the very end, when we see Rosenthal's visit to the office of the director of the Moscow Art Theater -- the theater where Stanislavski arguably invented modern acting -- and we learn that some humor is indeed universal.

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