(2009)3Josh RalskeWriter-director Raymond De Felitta (The Thing About My Folks) returns to the low-key urban working-class comedy of Two Family House with City Island. Andy Garcia stars as Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer who lives in the eponymous section of the Bronx, a surprisingly bucolic fishing village abutting one of the busiest cities in the world. "You ask me about my biggest secret," Vince narrates as the movie opens, "Like most people, I guess, I've got a few."
And he certainly does. In fact, the Rizzo family is brimming with them. For one thing, he and his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), both smoke, and hide it from one another. Vince tells Joyce he has a regular poker game, but he's actually taking acting classes. Daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) pretends to be coming home on spring break, when in fact she's dropped out of school and is working as a stripper. Teen son Vinnie (Ezra Miller) has a fetish for large women, and has grown obsessed with Denise (Carrie Baker Reynolds), a heavyset neighbor.
But the biggest secret is Vince's son from a previous relationship, whom he hasn't seen in decades. In one of several contrivances, Tony (Steven Strait) winds up an inmate at Vince's job, eligible for parole only if a family member will take him in. Without telling Tony or the rest of his family the truth about their relationship, Vince gets Tony out of jail, and takes him into their home on City Island. As part of an acting exercise, Vince confides the truth to Molly (Emily Mortimer), a sympathetic woman (with her own mysterious past) from his acting class.
The film works most effectively when it maintains the kind of modest, mildly amusing, naturalistic level that makes all this family drama palatable. Garcia is a pro, and he makes the thwarted, bottled-up Vince both believable and compelling. He's matched by the supporting cast. García-Lorido and Strait are pretty and charming. Margulies is a bit shrill, and Miller (who was fantastic as a much quieter troubled teen in his debut, Afterschool) grates a bit as a peanut-gallery smart-ass, but they're both reasonably believable characters, up to a point. Alan Arkin is fine in a disappointingly small role, and Mortimer shines, as usual, until Molly reveals her own dark secrets and the part essentially becomes unplayable.
Watching City Island, we know that everything will eventually break down, and that all the family's secrets, big and little, will be revealed. It all goes down pretty much the way we expect it to, with a big dramatic meltdown out in the street. It's a bit disappointing how closely De Felitta hews to convention in resolving the family's crises, but along the way to that foregone conclusion, there are surprises and pleasures. For example, it's refreshing how the movie addresses Vinnie's budding perversion without judgment or hysteria. Though the trajectory of Vince's acting career might seem far-fetched, De Felitta clearly knows that milieu, and those scenes have a lived-in feel that is ultimately convincing.
Things eventually bog down in too much plot, too much drama, and simply too much yelling, but what saves City Island is De Felitta's understanding of the neighborhood, and his obvious affection for the flawed, fragile Rizzo family.
A dysfunctional family living on a picturesque island in the Bronx spares no expense in avoiding the truth about their messed-up lives in writer/director Raymond de Felitta's dark family comedy. The family patriarch, Vince (Andy Garcia) is a prison guard who is secretly plotting a new career as an actor. Meanwhile, as Vince takes acting lessons on the down low, his daughter moonlights as a stripper and his younger namesake harbors a secret fetish that involves the family's 300-pound neighbor. Under normal circumstances Vincent's wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), would be the family rock, but lately she's been preoccupied with uncovering the identity of the hired help, a secret that only her husband knows.