If something becomes popular chances are you will see it imitated, duplicated, and replicated. One common version of this is taking popular American sitcoms and making a version of if for another country. For example you’d be surprised to find out how many countries have their own version of the Nanny and Married with Children. It’s like looking into bizzaro world. Exporting Raymond follows the creator of “Everyone Loves Raymond” Phil Rosenthal as he attempts make a Russian version of his famous show.
Your first thought may be if I didn’t like “Everyone Loves Raymond” would I enjoy this documentary? I mean if you disliked the show why would you care about seeing it made? While I wouldn’t say this will change your opinion on the show you can still find pleasure in watching it without a love for the original sitcom. If you ever wondered how television is made in general it gives you a good peek into that process. I was interested to see how much actually goes into just making one episode of television. While the process was taking place in a different country it is easy to imagine it shared a lot of commonalities the process here. In “Exporting Raymond” we get to see the trial and tribulations Phil Rosenthal must go through to get this show made. On top of the normal troubles of television making is the fact he is in a complete foreign land. A land that is far from the one he left in Hollywood. The glitz and glamour of Hollywood has be replaced with wild dogs the roam the studio lot and decrypted buildings that look inhabitable let alone suited for the making of a television show. The biggest issue Rosenthal encounters however is how much different our two cultures are. This is important because in order for his show to work it has to fit into the framework of the society it is taking place in. Russian television has typically been filled with comedy that have over the top humor that no way fit in any type of reality. For example shows like “Married with Children” that reveal in their ridiculousness have hit a chord with the Russian public. Rosenthal however wants his show to stay rooted in reality. He wants people to feel as if they are watching something that they deal with on a regular basis.
It was nice to actually see how much culture shock Rosenthal actually had to go through. We often hear about the Americanization of the rest of the world through the influence of our corporations and entertainment industry. You hear about countries that barely have running water in the majority of their country, but still have McDonalds on street corners and Lady Gaga playing on their radios. This also shows that it is possible for a country to hold onto the uniqueness of their culture in his virtual age. Rosenthal attempts to break through those cultural barriers to answer that age old question, “What is funny?” Are there any universal truths when it comes to humor? Is there a certain joke that can cross all language and cultural boundaries? Discovering the answer to this was quite intriguing. Although, I do wish they went deeper into it then they did. The theme of this documentary seems to be give you a little information about a lot of different topics. While the focus was on the making of the television show there were plenty of side stories. I did enjoy the majority of them. Perhaps the best one was the relationship Rosenthal shared with his Russian driver. Even though this relationship seemed to come out of nowhere it sure had a lot of heart. Couldn’t help but enjoy watching them bond as they attempted to relate to one another. Most importantly it added more to the main portion of the documentary then it took a way. In this you get to see the entire process of the creation of the show. You see the initial meeting at the writers table as the American produces pitch the show to the Russian writers. Trying to explain comedy through a translator was especially challenging. From the onset of that initial meeting the creation of the show seemed impossible. There are even issues with the wardrobe. This struggle becomes a huge give and take from both sides. Rosenthal tries to keep it as true to the original as possible while the Russian studio and crew adept to adapt it to fit their own vision.
Luckily the drama isn’t too heavy handed. They balance the drama by injecting enough comedy throughout. Rosenthal plays the role of ‘fish out of water’ quite well. Though there are times where I felt he was overplaying the neurotic ignorant American. That portrayal hurt the overall realism of the documentary. I am lukewarm to the actual “Everyone Loves Raymond” so I wasn’t sure how the comedy would play out. In the end I found plenty of laugh out loud moments. Maybe the funniest part of the entire documentary was Rosenthal’s actual parents, who were the influence for Raymond’s parents in the sitcom. Obviously the television versions were over exaggerations, but they did share some common features. In fact I found the real version funnier than their television counterparts. Overall there was a nice balance of emotions that kept the story going and easily held my interest. If you are at all interested in the television process, curious to see a different side of Russia, or perhaps a huge “Everybody Loves Raymond” fan you’ll find something to enjoy. If none of that peeks your fancy than you might want to go a different direction.
Review by: Dan “Movie Revolt” Clark