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City Island

USA 2009
Directed by
Raymond De Felitta
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

City Island

Synopsis: City Island is a one-square mile section of the Bronx - a fishing village comprised of "mussle-suckers" (newcomers to City Island) and "clam-diggers" (those whose families have lived there for generations). “Corrections officer” Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a clam-digger who lies to his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), about going to play poker games when he's really attending acting class held by failed actor Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin). Here he meets Molly (Emily Mortimer). Joyce thinks Vince is having an affair but when he brings home a young good-looking con (Steven Strait) to stay she has no idea that he is his child from an earlier relationship. Meanwhile Vince's son with Joyce, Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), has a fetish for fat women, his daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is working as a pole dancer and Joyce starts to fancy the lodger.

Every now and then an American movie pops onto our screens which is neither star-powered Hollywood mainstreamer nor quirky indie outsider but has aspects of both categories. It has been a while (Dinner Rush in 2000 comes immediately to mind) but City Island is one such film. It has some star value in the presences of Andy Garcia (also an executive producer) and Julianna Margulies in the leads although neither are A-listers (Garcia’s career inexplicably peaked around 1990 with The Godfather III), whilst ubiquitous indie player Alan Arkin appears in a typical performance as a sarcastic acting coach. It slots into the dysfunctional family category but writer-director Raymond De Felitta's treatment is comfortably mainstream. And with a novel New York setting, an engaging script and excellent performances it is a charmingly little film that probably won't be seen by a lot of people but will unfailingly please those who do.

The bedrock of the film is the script which has an inventive story and believable characters whose foibles are depicted with humour and affection. De Felitta's dialogue is snappy and funny and gives the actors great material to work with. Heading the bill, Andy Garcia turns in an uncharacteristic but marvellously effective performance as a blue-collar worker who dreams of being another Marlon Brando but is embarrassed by his aspirations and intimidated by his beautiful,but bossy wife. As the latter Margulies is terrific as the ball-breaking Joyce, sexy as hell, for Vince, almost literally so. But these two are only the front-runners in a team of excellent players. My favourite was newcomer Ezra Miller, Vince’s wiseacre son with a fondness for sarcasm. Emily Mortimer as Vince's confidante may not have a particularly demanding role but the platonic relationship between her and Vince is nicely drawn and she brings it off well. Steven Strait and Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy Garcia's real-life daughter) are equally as good in their roles. I found the fat lady (Carrie Baker Reynolds) fixation a little weird but maybe that’s just me.

Adding another layer of enjoyment, De Felitta uses the subject of Vince’s attempt to break into acting to make many wry observations on that seductive but heart-breaking world, made all the more delicious because we and the actors know that they are the exceptions to the rule. From Alan Arkin’s those-who-can’t-act-teach-acting character to Molly's description of the the grind of rejections that is the wannabe actor's lot to Vince's own audition for a Scorsese-De Niro movie, City Island runs the gamut of A Chorus Line without the songs or leg-warmers.

If you’re looking for a slightly quirky, quietly touching and consistently amusing film, City Island is just the ticket though you'll have to overlook one of the worst continuity gaffes I've seen late in the film when Joyce is berating Vince.


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