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Exporting Raymond (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 90 minutes

OK for children.

When I was doing business in the Caribbean a few decades ago, before my first visit I was advised to read Donít Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk. Based on a true story, it is about a New York theatrical agent who retired and bought a hotel in the Virgin Islands and found his idyllic idea turned into hell on earth, it perfectly described the way business is done in and around the Caribbean.

TV producer Phil Rosenthal would have been well advised to have read a similar book on doing business in Russia. Since there was none extant, he lived through similar cultural problems that Woukís protagonist endured as he tried to help produce his hit CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond for the Russian TV market. This documentary can serve as the same sort of primer for doing business in Russia that Woukís novel still provides for doing business in the Caribbean.

While the thrust of this excellent, funny documentary is about dealing with the different personalities and thought processes of the Russians, the B story shows the truth of the story of the dictum of Sir Donald Wolfit, famed English actor/manager, who, while lying on his deathbed, was asked by a student, "Sir Donald, after accomplishing so much in your life, dying must be hard."  To which Sir Donald replied, "Dying is easy...comedy is hard."

Rosenthalís film provides an excellent showcase for just how hard comedy is. In one segment in particular, it cuts back and forth between his American show, starring Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, Doris Roberts, Brad Garrett, and Peter Boyle, and their Russian counterparts. One scene in particular gives Rosenthal and his Russian counterparts headaches, mainly because they wonít listen to Rosenthal about what makes the scene funny in the American version but not funny in the Russian version. It not only highlights the small things that can make the difference between something thatís unfunny and funny, but it shows what an outstanding actress Patricia Heaton is and how crucial she was to the success of the show, even though Romano had most of the funny lines. It also shows Rosenthal exhibiting what can only be described as saintly patience.

Rosenthal narrates the story, filmed by handheld cameras while he was in Russia dealing with the various Russian personalities. Rosenthal, who wrote and directed the film, has a fine sense of humor which is amplified by his narrative ability. This is a film that is educational, instructional, and funny.

February 28, 2011