Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan was at the 2023 Miami Film Festival for the Opening Night screening of Ray Romano’s directorial debut Somewhere In Queens, plus other events and films during the first weekend of the fest.
The Miami Film Festival is a unique festival because it typically falls right before the Academy Awards, which gives it a fun, carefree feel, with programming to match. This year’s fest offered an eclectic lineup for its opening weekend, starting with the directorial debut of Ray Romano, Somewhere in Queens, but I also was treated to three additional comedies that reminded me of why original storytelling is such a precious commodity at the movies right now.
Somewhere in Queens
Remember TNT’s underrated Men of a Certain Age? It was an Emmy-nominated TV series that only ran two seasons and yet it set the stage for a future partnership between Ray Romano and screenwriter Mark Stegemann in the form of Somewhere in Queens.
“That show was unfortunately canceled early, by our measure,” said Stegemann on the red carpet, “but then [Ray] called and said he had this idea that he was having trouble working out. Ray said, ‘I’ve never written a movie,’ and I said, ‘I’ve never written a movie,’ so he said, ‘Let’s figure it out together.'”
Somewhere in Queens follows Leo (Romano) and Angela (Laurie Metcalfe) Russo and their son Matthew aka “Sticks,” who has a talent for basketball, but of course, it also involves family dynamics (a Romano hallmark).
“It’s based on things I’ve experienced in my life, but then we made up a story about a family,” Romano told me before the screening on the red carpet. “The simple inspiration was when my son graduated from high school and he was no longer going to play on the basketball team—that I was going to miss going to the games and getting that excitement. My idea was what if this was about a man who that’s all he had? The only time he didn’t feel invisible in his life was when he was the father of the star of the basketball game.”
Somewhere in Queens has a lot of heart (and Rocky references!) with standout performances from its female cast, including Laurie Metcalfe, Jennifer Esposito (who has only gotten better with age!), and newcomer Sadie Stanley.
Two Tickets to Greece
Laure Calamy is probably one of the best actresses Americans don’t talk enough about, and paired opposite the wonderful Olivia Z. Cote in Marc Fitoussi’s Two Tickets to Paradise, she once again shines. I had just seen Calamy in The Origin of Evil at TIFF last fall, and she blew me away with her layered performance in that film. In this one, I was once again left wondering why she doesn’t have Film Twitter stans (although consider me one).
Two Tickets‘ logline is one I’m a sucker for. Two middle school friends, Blandine and Magalie (Zote and Calamy), drift apart and are reunited when Blandine’s son sends Magalie a Facebook message. Through some fibs and miscommunication, the two former friends end up going on a trip to Greece together, to live out their teenage goal of reaching the island of Amorgos from their favorite film, The Big Blue. This film is such a charmer and a tribute to how the friendships you make as a child can still be as impactful as an adult.
What’s Love Got To Do With It? (U.S. Premiere)
For those of us who believe the romantic comedy genre might be dead (we debated this very issue on a recent Water Cooler Podcast), there is some hope in the form of the delightful What’s Love Got To Do With It? from Shekhar Kapur. WLGTDWI has all the elements we are familiar with from a classic romantic comedy: a protagonist in an artsy field (Lily James’s Zoe is a documentarian), a best-friend love interest (in the form of dreamy Shazad Latif), and a sassy grandma, just to name a few. And yet, it takes these elements and makes them feel fresh by examining a different culture, in this case, that of arranged marriages within Pakistani families.
It’s easy to predict the ending of most romantic comedies, but in this one, I had trouble knowing what would happen, which is quite a feat within the genre. (Even with Reese Witherspoon’s Your Place or Mine, we all knew that at some point, she and Ashton would be together. . .regrettably.) This one has sizzling chemistry, a compelling story, and characters you care about. Lily James is charming as Zoe, but of course, Emma Thompson steals the show as her meddling mother, who has some of the funniest lines that resonated with the Miami Film Festival audience.
One of my favorite TV shows of the last 10 years was Search Party, for its dark and biting satire and very complicated female lead. Susie Searches feels like a spawn or maybe even a cousin of this series, the way it unwinds its plot and presents some truly dark material with a smirk (or in this case, a broad smile with braces).
Kiersey Clemons stars as Susie, a college student who attempts to solve crimes in her true crime podcast while also caring for her mother with MS. But rather than saving a big reveal for its final act, Susie Searches drops it in the first one, which really elevates the tension. Director and co-writer Sophie Kargman cited a famous Hitchcock saying about this reveal in a Q&A following the screening.
“[It’s] two people are having a conversation and you find out at the end of the conversation there’s a bomb underneath the table versus finding out very early on there’s a bomb underneath the table. Knowing that really early on, you’re very keyed in—it’s a totally different experience.”
Kargman takes us on a warped journey that feels fun when it shouldn’t (this comedy has a body count!), with unique and dynamic style that you can’t quite pin down (kind of like its shifty but loveable protagonist!). Clemons has created what feels like an iconic character in a film that could become a cult classic—although that would be the ultimate true crime since it deserves to be seen by wide audiences now.
A Conversation with Diego Luna
On Saturday night at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Auditorium, Variety’s Emily Longeretta presented the inaugural Variety Virtuoso Award to Diego Luna, in front of a packed audience of students and fans. Luna seemed humbled and honored by the recognition, dedicating the award to his late father before he sat down with Longeretta to discuss everything from his directorial work to his recent TV stint on Disney+’s critically acclaimed Andor.
“I knew it was gonna be big, but I didn’t know it would be big for the right reasons,” said Luna. “With Star Wars, there’s a big audience and community that wants it to be successful. It’s quite unique. It made me feel like I had something important in my hands. I was given a gift to be a part of something that matters already.”
And unlike so many shows that aim for longevity, this one wants to tell its story in just two seasons—and that’s it.
“It’s been bittersweet because I know every day I’m closer to the end. The second season is the last season of the show. We are not changing the ending of Rogue One,” he said to big laughs from the audience.
The Miami Film Festival runs from March 3 through March 11.