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CITY ISLAND (director/writer: Raymond De Felitta; cinematographer: Vanja Cernjul; editor: David Leonard; music: Jan A. P. Kaczmarek; cast: Andy Garcia (Vince Rizzo), Julianna Margulies (Joyce Rizzo), Steven Strait (Tony Nardella), Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Vivian Rizzo), Ezra Miller (Vinnie Rizzo), Alan Arkin (Michael Malakov), Emily Mortimer (Molly Charlesworth), Jee Young Han (Casting Assistant), Carrie Baker Reynolds (Denise); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Andy Garcia/ Mr. De Felitta/Lauren Versel/Zachary Matz; Anchor Bay Films; 2009)
“Is mildly entertaining until it sinks from sentimentality.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A goofy sitcom that strains credibility, as it tells about dark family secrets. It’s written and directed with affection for the characters and locale by Raymond De Felitta (“The Thing About My Folks”/”Two Family House”), and is mildly entertaining until it sinks from sentimentality, its overbaked ridiculous plot kicks in and that its screwball comedy routine built around misunderstandings fails to take hold. The best secret it reveals is that in the crime-ridden dense Bronx, in its outskirts, there’s a serene seaside fishing community called City Island, reminiscent of a New England seaside village, where the featured lower-middle-class jerkoff Rizzo family live in a modest house that the patriarch’s fish scaler immigrant father built.

The family’s patriarch is Vince (Andy Garcia), a correction officer in nearby Westchester County, who is secretly attending an acting class–taught by an out of work veteran actor named Michael (Alan Arkin)–while telling his feisty legal-secretary wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) that he’s playing poker with the boys. Joyce has reached a mid-life crisis and wonders during all the family shouting matches what happened to their marriage to make it so sour. Their sarcastic high school son Vinnie (Ezra Miller) secretly craves to be with overweight women and fantasizes about watching them eat. Their college student daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia’s real-life daughter) has lost her college scholarship and is a pole dancer in a Manhattan exotic club to get tuition for next term, but is too ashamed to tell her parents. The downcast Vivian returns home for a week on the pretense of a spring break, and feels uncomfortable in the house where everyone has a bad word for each other.

The action gets going on two fronts: first Vince’s assignment for acting class is to tell his worse secret in class and to help him get it off his chest he’s partnered with aspiring actress classmate Molly Charlesworth (Emily Mortimer). Secondly car booster convict Tony Nardella (Steven Strait), serving time in Vince’s prison, is paroled under his sponsorship. He’s Vince’s long-lost 24-year-old illegitimate son that no one else knows about. How Tony reacts to the family and helps bring them together to forgive each other for their goof-ups is accomplished through an awkward execution of the contrived story line, and it’s not helped by its stilted dialogue and its unbelievable pat conclusion that it was just a little miscommunication that caused their family problems. Heartthrob Tony is more like a saint than a mixed-up angry ex-convict, who we’re supposed to believe is the nice guy catalyst for the family’s coming together. In the end, we witness an unbearable huggy confessional scene to note all’s well again with the typical working-class family.

Julianna Margulies deserves to be singled-out for giving a brilliant performance as the simmering proud housewife, whose forceful screen presence alone kept the film breathing with life.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”