Friday, September 10, 2010

DVD Review: City Island

City Island ** ½
Directed by:
Raymond De Felitta.
Written By: Raymond De Felitta.
Starring: Andy Garcia (Vince Rizzo), Julianna Margulies (Joyce Rizzo), Steven Strait (Tony Nardella), Dominik García-Lorido (Vivian Rizzo), Ezra Miller (Vince Jr.), Emily Mortimer (Molly), Alan Arkin (Michael Malakov).

City Island is an agreeable little comedy about a strange, over exuberant Italian-American family living in a little known area of the Bronx – what is essentially a fishing village. The father is Vince (Andy Garcia), but he isn’t a fisherman – he is a correctional officer, or what everyone else in the movie calls a prison guard. He has long since harbored a secret ambition to be an actor though, and has been driving into the city to take acting classes. He is too embarrassed to admit this to anyone though – telling his wife (Julianne Margulies) that he has a poker game – which she thinks is code name for having an affair. Meanwhile, their daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is supposed to be off at college, but is instead working a strip club because she lost her scholarship. Their son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is becoming obsessed with porn sites – especially ones involving larger women and food. And, oh yeah, Vince has found out that the son he had in a previous relationship, that he ran out on before he was born (Steven Strait), has ended up in prison, and decides to help him get early release by bringing him home to his family – without telling anyone who he really is. This is a family that essentially doesn’t tell each other anything.

There are a lot of moments in City Island that work – most of them involving Andy Garcia who delivers one of his best performances in years. Yes, in a way he is the stereotypical Italian American male – loud, swinging hand gestures accompany much of what he says when he gets angry, but eventually DeFelitta and Garcia find their way inside him and make him more than that. He is a dreamer – an essentially good guy, who is trying really hard to please everyone, but cannot do it. His best scenes involve Molly (Emily Mortimer) a woman he meets in his acting class. It is only with Molly that he can really explain everything he is going through. They don’t have an affair, but instead they provide that stranger that movies so often contain that the main character can finally open up to.

The problem with the movie is that aside from Vince, no one else ever really moves beyond the level of caricature. DeFellita’s previous film, Two Family House, was also about an Italian American family man with secrets, but that one sidestepped this problem. While both films are in essence a comedic fantasy (no real attempt is made for either of them to be realistic, because the stories he is working with are not), but Two Family House worked because the characters felt authentic. Other than Garcia, that isn’t the case in City Island, which is amusing in fits and starts (and does have a fine ending), but never really rises above its limitations.

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