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In American comedy, wives are scolds and husbands are hapless. In Exporting Raymond, Phil Rosenthal-executive producer of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond-introduces to Russia the harried Debra and henpecked Raymond Romano. As Rosenthal advises a Russian network on how to adapt the sitcom, he struggles to find a way to retain the premise-the squabbles of a disputatious but loving multigenerational family-and rework it for a different culture.
Hunkered in an endearingly ugly sheepskin coat, he treks through the bleak Moscow landscape and the dank halls of the Russian studio. Rosenthal befriends his driver, a Soviet military veteran, and he thaws a rigidly coiffed costume designer who insists all Russian wives do housework while wearing cashmere and stilettos. When Rosenthal interviews a curator who venerates Britney Spears as the best American pop culture offers, we get a sense of the obstacles Rosenthal faces.
The documentary has warm and funny moments, but some of these moments seem disconnected and the film ends up feeling stretched thin. Meanwhile, the show's central question-is Raymond universal?-remains unsatisfactorily answered. Rosenthal persists in believing that his view of the family is a universal one, but the Russians keep insisting that their men are more macho than Raymond and their own families do not share the Romanos' bickering power struggle. Rosenthal may be right, but I left the film wishing he'd explored the nuances of Russian family life more deeply.
Rosenthal has his querulous and distracted moments, but he heroically battles all cheesy fare and struggles to communicate the idea of a sitcom that exaggerates real life but is also recognizable as real life. As he tries to resolve his creative differences by befriending his detractors, it's hard not to love him. Just like everybody-maybe even in Russia-loves the character he created.