Unconventional ‘City Island’ engaging, real
City Island Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies Rating: PG-13 4 out of 5 pitchforks
A pleasant family life with everyone loving each other and respecting one another is a wonderful thing to have — unless you want to make a film.
Cinematically, the best kind of family is one that is consistently at each others’ throats. One that deceives, cheats and drives everyone around them crazy, yet still maintains an undying love for each other that prevails above all else in the end.
The latter is what you get in “City Island,” except it’s not as simple or as stereotypical as the facade of the film may seem. It’s got all the typical family drama, influenced in a large part by the setting of City Island, an old fishing island in the middle of the Bronx.
The characters are well developed and the writing is above par, which makes up for what may appear to be the rehashing of a routine concept.
Vince Rizzo, the head of the Rizzo family and a “Clam Digger” (a lifelong resident of City Island, as opposed to a “Muscle Sucker,” someone who moved there) is a correctional officer (aka prison guard) who has many deep, dark secrets — most notably that he is the guard at a facility that houses the son he abandoned at birth.
On top of that, Rizzo (Andy Garcia) sneaks out to his acting class, taught by Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin). Arkin gives a witty performance as a man who teaches acting, but auditions for the same roles as his students.
Rizzo’s wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), with her thick accent and thick makeup, gives the first impression of being a caricature of a woman in the Bronx. But her character was written with enough finesse that the facade is quickly overlooked. West-Coasters should trust that writer and director Raymond De Felitta, a native of New Yorker, created the characters as true to life as possible.
The couple’s daughter, Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido), becomes a stripper to pay for college (but can somehow afford breast implants) after her scholarship is rescinded, and their son, Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), has a fetish for girls of a larger size.
Yet all these things are kept secret from one another, making for a strenuous, yet engaging picture.
Emily Mortimer has a small part as Molly, a friend Vince makes at his acting class who has the biggest secret of them all. As usual, Mortimer plays a crazy person, a role she seems to be typecast for.
Garcia pulls off his stubborn, sometimes irrational character in an engaging way that gets the audience to invest their emotions in him. He’s crazy, just like everyone else, but Vince has enough heart to avoid being hated.
The engrossing quirks of all the characters in the film are what make “City Island” more endearing than many other films that deal with dysfunctional families. At times, you want to yell at the Rizzo’s for hiding their true selves from each other, but come the credits, all is forgiven because their hearts are bigger than their lies.
With its unconventional setting, charmingly annoying characters and sharp, witty lines, “City Island” is a hidden gem in the conventional world of family dramas.
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