Have you ever found yourself in a meeting, attempting to communicate what you know to be a sound and worthy idea, and yet every point you make is blunted and deflected by your collaborators? Perhaps there is some friction with their corporate culture, or a difference in your backgrounds.
Now imagine that your idea is one of the most successful concepts in the history of TV sitcoms — Everybody Loves Raymond — and that your would-be collaborators are a hardened Moscow production team only beginning to emerge from the Soviet-era broadcast bureaucracy.
It’s an amusing premise and, as you would expect, there is comedy in the clash between Hollywood polish and Russian ham-handedness. But where a more mocking documentarian might have flogged that Budyonny for all it was worth, what makes Exporting Raymond better is what made Everybody Loves Raymond better: Phil Rosenthal’s delight in the peculiarities of human personalities, and his sincere desire to build bridges.
To show us where he’s coming from, Rosenthal first takes us to meet his adorable parents at their Rockland County, New York home. Max and Helen Rosenthal, their son explains, were the inspiration for many of the lines spoken by Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts as Ray Romano’s TV parents. Helpfully, Max and Helen have already toured Moscow, and so are able to offer Phillip a quick orientation via the slideshow their iMac has produced for them.
Arriving in Russia, Rosenthal is confronted by one obstacle after another in matters ranging from wardrobe to casting to executive politics. Some of these situations are subtly awkward, others are breathtakingly ludicrous. Through it all, he does his best to remain cordial, and attempts to understand the workings behind these baffling problems in hopes of solving them. He comes off as an exceedingly nice guy.
Initially, Exporting Raymond seems to be the story of a show business big shot hobbled by bush-league bunglers, but a powerful turnabout occurs when Mr. TV Comedy Creator has to go on bended knee to beseech Oleg Tabakov, artistic director of the formidable Moscow Art Theatre.
Eventually, while this remains a gently funny film right through the closing credits, it also turns out to be a study in communication and interpersonal skills. Rosenthal is determined to home in on the humanity he shares with his Russian hosts, and to coax from that connection the fundamental sparks of comedy. Exporting Raymond could be instructive to anyone proposing to do business with any sort of “foreign” culture.
Amy and I both enjoyed it, and I’m giving it 3 out of 4 stars.