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Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: EXPORTING RAYMOND


            It is a widely accepted fact that comedy is a very localized phenomenon and as a consequence one of the hardest genres to export. Today most Hollywood movies are made with the international market in mind; it is not unusual for movies to make most of their money outside their country of origin (Hollywood or not). Comedy remains as the exception. However this hasn’t stopped the business from trying to adapt its most successful sitcoms for audiences abroad. Exporting Raymond is the story of Phil Rosenstal, the show runner of Everybody Loves Raymond, traveling to Russia to help a team of Russian writers adapt the sitcom into their own Everybody Loves Kostya. And in the process he makes the attempt to argue that comedy in is most specific form is in fact a universally relatable genre. It is a bold undertaking but Rosenthal makes an incredibly persuasive argument.



            In case you have been living under a rock, Everybody Loves Raymond was a hit TV-sitcom that ran for 9 seasons (210 episodes) on CBS based on the real life experiences of both writer Phil Rosenthal, and star Ray Romano. It was enough of a hit that in 2009 a Russian TV company decided to buy the rights for its adaptation as Russian sitcom.  Sony decides to send Rosenthal to Moscow to help the Russians in the writing. But two things are very clear from the moment Rosenthal steps in Russia; the Russian TV industry is a very different monster than its American counterpart and the Russians don’t necessarily want Rasenthal’s help.

            What follows is a hilarious comedy of culture clashes as Rosenthal tries to connect with his Russian colleagues while trying to save his baby, Everybody Loves Raymond, from being fully bastardized in translation. Russian sitcoms are a much broader form of comedy than their American counterparts. When Rosenthal insists that the show has to be based in real life, the Russian’s are perplexed; why would anyone want to make a comedy like real life? After all, we live in real life everyday and that is not funny. It is a back and forth argument as he tries to convince them that it is funny because it is relatable to everyone. But at times it seems that the culture gap might be too wide for this one.

The cast of Kostya and Raymond

            Rosenthal has an unbelievable eye for comedy. The existence of this movie in its current form is the product of a fluke. When Rosenthal learned that he was going to Russia to teach their writers how to write a sitcom, he thought it be a rich source of material to write his next comedy. So he took a camera crew with him to document his experience so he could later adapt it to a feature fictional film. Turns out what the camera captured was already unbelievably funny, so there was no need to write anything new. With his shrewd command of comedy Rosestal was able to create what is perhaps the first documentary to be a real comedy, and a laugh-out-loud, I-almost-pissed-my-pants type comedy for that matter.

            Most of the situations are incredibly hard to describe without getting into detail about what I learned of Russian culture and TV industry through the movie. But suffices to say that the best laughs come from instances that could only happen in the real world. They are so preposterous to have been invented by a screenwriter. That is what made Everybody Loves Raymond so good and it is what makes Exporting Raymond an unmatchable comedy about the fact that despite all cultural differences, a man being kicked in the balls is funny here, in Russia, and everywhere else. Because it is a pain all men can relate to. The same goes for marriage, family, parents, and the small instances of life that help us get through everyday. 
And just for you enjoyment here is the trailer for Everybody Loves Kostya:



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