Isolated in a sea of secrets
By John Anderson
Friday, April 9, 2010
The real City Island is a fishing village in the Bronx, which makes it almost as unlikely as the characters who populate Raymond De Felitta's dark-edged comedy. No man is an island? In this story, everyone, man or woman, is a walled fortress of paranoia, secrecy, unsatisfied yearnings and anger-at-low-tide, all of which will rise and collapse over the course of what is a very funny film, and one that operates at the sea level of humanity. Quaint. Slightly peculiar.
What seems to attract De Felitta as a writer-director is eccentricity and fractured urbanity; over the past two decades he has made a handful of charming films, including the memorable "Two Family House," most of which deal with characters who cultivate anxieties and predispositions into full-blown catastrophes. It's no surprise, therefore, that native New Yorkers are De Felitta's collective muse.
Vince Rizzo (played by Andy Garcia, who also produced) is a corrections officer, wannabe actor and beleaguered husband. Domestic relations being what they are, he tells his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies, looking as hard as press-on nails), that he's going out to play poker rather than admit he's taking an acting class. For her part, Joyce is the personification of matrimonial displeasure: With a hair-trigger temper and an adversarial relationship with cosmetics, she puts all her hopes and dreams into her college-student daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), who, unbeknownst to any other Rizzo, has dropped out of school and is working as a stripper.
Not enough? The Rizzos' acerbic son, Vince Jr. (the hilarious Ezra Miller), provides a sarcastic Greek chorus to his family's inanity while running his own clandestine operation: After spying on his rather large neighbor, Denise (Carrie Baker Reynolds), he learns to his delight that she has a chubby-chaser Web site. He's in heaven. But even Vince Jr.'s fatty fetish pales in comparison with the baggage that Dad's towing around: a son he has never met named Tony (Steven Strait), who has just become a guest of the state, inside Vince's place of employment.
Garcia is quite moving as Vince, who's barely in the acting game; his teacher (Alan Arkin) is cynical enough to deflate any aspiring thespian. But he goes on a fateful casting call because one enthusiastic classmate, Molly (Emily Mortimer), neutralizes his innate pessimism. The Molly-Vince equation is refreshing: a romance-free relationship that's about sharing one's secret self. But all the Rizzos have the same problem. One of the amazing things about "City Island" is the realization -- during its small-caliber apocalypse/climax -- of just how many enormous secrets are being harbored by so few people. A stripper. An illegitimate son. Forbidden lust. Illicit smoking. It's enough for a whole season of "All My Children," without the bad acting.
The acting is, in fact, superb and, given the amount of drama per frame, the best current buy for one's movie dollar.
Anderson is a freelance reviewer.
Contains vulgarity, adult content and lots of smoking.