Monday, May 3, 2010
CITY ISLAND / ***½
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Release Date: March 19, 2010
Running Time: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
In the small fishing town of City Island, a small section of the Bronx, New York, you are one of two things. You’re either a Muscle Sucker, which means you’re not a native, or you’re a Clam Digger, meaning you were born and bred within the one square mile that makes up City Island. Vince Rizzo is a definition Clam Digger.
Andy Garcia stars (and was also one of four producers) as Rizzo, a corrections officer who dreams of being an actor. He takes acting lessons from Michael Malakov (Oscar winner Alan Arkin). Strangely enough he doesn’t admit this to his wife Joyce (Juliana Margulies); he tells her he’s playing poker. Naturally she assumes that the “poker game” is another woman, and Vince actually admits he’d rather have his wife thinking he was with another woman than know he was taking acting classes.
The poker game is just one of several lies that play prominently into the plot. For everything that it’s about, “City Island” is mostly about the lies we tell our family, but also the lies we tell ourselves. Not even the children are innocent: Vince’s daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido, his shoot daughter) got kicked out of college and now works as a stripper so she can earn money to get back into school; his teenage son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has an obsession with a very specific kind of pornography.
Vince himself keeps more than just his acting lessons secret, but also the woman he meets there, Molly (one of my favorite underrated actors, Emily Mortimer). This relationship grounds the movie because their relationship is never sexual, but one based on trust, which neither seems to have elsewhere in their lives. Almost everything we know about Vince we get to know because he tells it to Molly.
The biggest secret of the film is that before he married Joyce, he had a relationship with a woman in which he fathered a child. Vince walked out before the child was born, but gets a second chance when he recognizes his son’s name, Tony Nardella (Steven Strait) on a list of prisoners in his facility. Tony is eligible to be released on probation to the care of a family member, and Vince volunteers to take Tony home with him. Of course, he doesn’t reveal who he is right away.
This all might sound like a heavy drama, but truthfully “City Island” is very funny and in a very human way. Some of the situations may seem a little unnatural but the cast does an expert job slipping into their characters and reacting to everything as if it was serious drama, and that’s what makes it funny. These are all remarkably likable, albeit flawed, characters. When they arrive to the well-built but admittedly zany conclusion, while other actors may have played it winking at the camera, the cast here never betray writer-director Raymond De Felitta’s characters.
In a film full of excellent performances, Andy Garcia definitely carries the film. Vince is far from perfect but Garcia succeeds in making him so real I couldn’t help but root for him. This is one of those performances that with a better release date and the right marketing could have attracted some awards attention. As it is, do what you can to seek out this little diamond in the rough.
*“City Island” won the audience award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Theater: AMC Oakview 24, Omaha, NE
Time: 145 pm
Date: May 3, 2010