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City Island

Secrets lead to misunderstandings which leads to laughs

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Married, with secrets: Julianna Margulies and Andy Garcia
  • Married, with secrets: Julianna Margulies and Andy Garcia

Ordinary, working-class New Yorker Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) has his secrets. One -- which he also unknowingly shares with the rest of his family -- is rather tame: He's a secret smoker. Another is rather sweet: Vince makes his living as a correctional officer, but what he really wants to do is act. But Vince is harboring still another secret, and this one's a doozy.

The hiding -- and unveiling -- of secrets is the central shtick of City Island, writer-director Raymond De Felitta's family-comedy-with-a-splash-of-drama. Naturally, Vince heads up a quirky and dysfunctional brood, who are all up to their own private tricks. His college-student daughter (Garcia's real-life daughter, Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is riding a stripper pole at a local club, Hell's Half Acre. Teen-age son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is taking his sexual fetish from Web-surfing dreams to real-world action. And Mrs. Rizzo, Joyce (Julianna Margulies) -- well, she hasn't so much got secrets as unvoiced concerns, chief among them, that Vince's "poker nights" are anything but.

She's right, of course. Vince is spending those evenings at an acting class. His instructor (the delightfully acerbic Alan Arkin) assigns a monologue based on secrets and pairs the class up. Vince gets matched with Molly (Emily Mortimer), a spirited Englishwoman, who encourages Vince to take chances. One gamble is to truly pursue his acting; the other is to confront -- and set right -- his deepest, darkest secret.

That all sounds very heavy, but City Island is fairly close to farce. Its characters are broadly drawn from existing comic stereotypes, and the plot is calculated well past the point of reality. The set-up for Vince's big secret couldn't be more unlikely, but for laughs, viewers will forgive a lot of contrivance. 

Indeed, the screening audience engaged in a number of hearty guffaws, and City Island should play well with fans of Little Miss Sunshine and similar hothouse heartwarming indie-ish comedies about amusingly screwed-up people. Cynics may note that too many of the funny scenes feel forced -- does every blue-collar Noo Yawk Italian-American family spend every meal screaming at each other? -- and far too many jokes are telegraphed in advance.

I would also question De Felitta's decision to have the viewer privy to every secret (except one). On the one hand, it lets us clearly see the misunderstandings as comedy. But knowing everybody's secret upfront also removes some of the intrigue: It's pretty obvious how it will all be resolved once the hidden things inevitably come tumbling out.

Then there's the City Island thing. That's the town where Vince and his family live, and plenty of filmgoers will be scrambling for the atlas to verify that such an odd place -- a fishing village in the Bronx? -- actually exists. (It does.)

So while it was kinda cool to have this odd corner of New York highlighted, it wasn't really clear to me why this film was set there, especially given the story's reliance on hidden lives. Vince repeatedly asserts about how small and insular City Island is: Residents are either clam-diggers (native) or mussel-suckers (transplant). It all suggests that this is a place where secrets have little chance of being kept. (Case in point: The next-door-neighbor's secret is visible through her open window.)

The characters also talk a lot about City Island in the film, but the hamlet's charms aside, I'd have picked a more meaningful -- or catchy -- title. At one point, Molly muses on the poetical nature of the town's name: "City Island ... the two words stand in stark contrast to each other" -- as if the greater New York area isn't already lousy with city islands.

But, fuhgeddaboutit, as some guy in a movie might say. We stopped by City Island for some funnies, and if the jokes seem a bit obvious, well, a cheap laugh is better than none. It's nice to see Andy Garcia's comic, beleaguered-dad side, after dozens of roles as the heavy. And my eye is on young Miller, whose deadpan delivery as the disaffected teen-age son was a big hit.

 

Starts Fri., April 30

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