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MOVIE REVIEW: Exporting Raymond

This documentary is the funniest movie this year

  • A scene from "Exporting Raymond."
  • Phil Rosenthal in "Exporting Raymond."
  • A scene from "Exporting Raymond."
  • (Left) Phil Rosenthal in "Exporting Raymond."
  • (Left) Phil Rosenthal in "Exporting Raymond."
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I thought of Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm while watching Exporting Raymond, because Phil Rosenthal is the Larry David to the show Everybody Loves Raymond. He’s the writer and co-creator, and also the writer/director/star of this documentary.

He gets a call from Mother Russia, and they want to translate the show to their audience. They’ve had success with other TV shows –Who’s the Boss, The Nanny, and we even see a bizarre clip of I Dream of Genie.

Good comedy isn’t subjective. It wasn't that funny when Bill Murray, in Lost in Translation, is confused by what a call girl is saying she’ll do to him. She’s saying “lick” in broken English, and he’s saying “What? You’ll kick me?” Yet the scenes from this show that are lost in translation are perhaps the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in a documentary in some time.

When Rosenthal tries to explain how a Russian actor shouldn’t jump up and down 10 times after being kicked in the balls by his wife in bed, they don’t get it. A lot of their humor is physical, and I’m guessing the more jumps the actor does, the funnier they think it is. But as Rosenthal so astutely points out – even the Russians watching the scene aren’t laughing. And I won’t even begin to give away the other scenes that involve Russians “not laughing,” as they watch the taping.

Some think Larry David is mean and hard to take. Others find Woody Allen and Albert Brooks a bit neurotic for their tastes. What’s great about Rosenthal -- who has a little of all those traits -- is that he is never wrong in the things he’s saying. And he’s as polite as he can be under the circumstances.

When he tries explaining to a director (who has resorted to merely walking away from him when he has a suggestion) that a fight over orange juice can’t come across like you’re on stage doing a serious scene from Uncle Vanya…the director and actors just don’t get it. So we watch another take of the actor complaining to his wife about the orange juice she’s already taken a drink from, and it sounds as if he’s telling her that his best friend was just murdered. It also helps that we see clips of the original episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.

And just when you’re at the point of thinking that Russian people just don’t laugh at anything, you’ll get a witty comment from one of the Ruskies working on the show Everybody Loves Kostya (that’s the new name). At the studio where the TV shows are filmed in Russia, it looks like the media department of an elementary school from 1978. Rosenthal inquires as to which room Saw was filmed in, and asks a sound engineer “Can you hear the cancer?”

Unfortunately, this movie isn’t for everybody. I think it’s a shame if you let this go by, because it’s really an intriguing time at the theatre. It’s funny without trying to hard to be and it has a few touching moments, too (dinner with a Russian family, and a gift Rosenthal gives someone). I wished this movie was four hours longer. Perhaps I’ll just wait for the DVDs of Everybody Loves Kostya if it succeeds. Stay for the credits to find out if it does, and for a few funny extras as well.

I’m giving it an A-.