A version of this review appeared April 7 in coverage of Philadelphia CineFest.
As Phil Rosenthal sees it, why should he travel 6,000 miles to Moscow to be told he's not funny when he can hear that at home in Los Angeles, without the jet lag?
Exporting Raymond, his droll documentary, travels to Russia with the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Rosenthal's mission impossible - so long as he is not a victim of K&R (as insurers call kidnap and ransom) - is to assist a television network in translating his beloved sitcom for the Russian market, where Raymond is rechristened Kostya.
Everything Rosenthal assumes is a universal about husbandhood, family, and comedy is challenged by his Russian colleagues. They view Kostya as insufficiently masculine, his wife, Vera, as tragically dowdy, and the show's spousal friction as more the stuff of Chekhov than Cheers.
In meeting after meeting with a revolving door of scriptwriters and heads of studio, Rosenthal loses his deadpan expression and his movie comes alive. His cross-cultural project sets him at cross-purposes with his collaborators, which is where Exporting Raymond finds its story.
After butting his head against the cinderblock resistance of the Russians, whom he sees as a monolithic type, Rosenthal remembers that people are people. And in learning their individual stories, the cultural stereotypes fall away.
I mean no disrespect to Rosenthal when I say I laughed louder during the movie than during any episode of his hit TV show. By the closing credits, as "Take Me to the River" made an unexpected appearance on the soundtrack, I was reduced to a puddle of giggle.