EXPORTING RAYMOND is a documentary that follows Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom creator Phil Rosenthal as he travels to Russia to oversee their adaptation of the show. It came out on DVD this week.
And, much to my surprise, it’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year. Seriously.
Besides the fact that it’s just generally hilarious, it’s also disarmingly charming, sweet, and fascinating. How do you translate a sitcom like that? What does Russia find funny that we don’t and vice versa? Is there much to translate at all, or are we exactly alike?
I think adaptations are wonderful. More often than not people like to dump on them as if they’re a lazy cop-out to creating something original. Beyond the fact that there’s really nothing truly original anymore (and there hasn’t been for centuries), what’s so bad about bringing something to a new audience? Every time a foreign film or property is remade by Hollywood people’s knee-jerk reaction is always “what’s wrong with the original?” “Typical Hollywood.” And so on.
What’s wrong with the original? Nothing. The original is probably great, that’s why we want to adapt it and share it with more people. Doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down or cheapened (though a lot of the time it is, but still).
Subtitles seem to freak people out in America. Or at least that’s what people think. Americans are far more tolerant of subtitles than the rest of the world. I think dubbing would freak people out even more as we’re not used to it outside of bad Kung-Fu and Godzilla movies. Here in Europe, and elsewhere, they dub everything. It’s easier, and they’re used to the lack of lip-syncing. They admittedly don’t want to read. And even I sometimes just don’t want to deal with subtitles. It’s understandable. It makes sense.
I’m getting sidetracked. A remake or adaptation does make something more commercially viable, obviously, because of the language and actors. But culturally it’s also fascinating. And it wasn’t until only recently that we starting exporting this kind of stuff. The sitcom The Nanny has been made all over the world over and over. The film Sideways was recently remade in Japan. This is interesting to me. I live to share, and an adaptation is bigger form of sharing for me. Maybe it’s why nearly every time I write, or am tempted to write, it’s an adaptation of some kind. I may have a dearth of original ideas, but I find I have more to say, and am better at saying it, using the structure made by others anyhow.
So, yes, for all of this and more I found EXPORTING RAYMOND to be engrossing. It doesn’t hurt that Rosenthal comes off as a genuinely interesting, charming, and all around nice guy. Almost anti-show business. Even though that’s his business and it’s what he battles in the film. A pleasant surprise all around. Please do check it out.