Directed by: Raymond De Felitta (The Thing About My Folks)
Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer, Dominik García-Lorido
While there are much worse ways to spend your time and your money at your local multiplex, I’m not exactly excited about Raymond De Felitta’s City Island. It’s one of those movies where—on paper—everything is just about right. The acting is fine, the direction is well done (if unspectacular)—the movie is perfectly entertaining. The problem is, however, that even though it does things right, City Island rarely excels at anything, becoming more of an exercise in competency than anything else.
The film takes place on the titular island and follows the Rizzos, a blue-collar New York City family. On the surface, the Rizzos aren’t all that surprising beyond a high level of family dysfunction that propels the plot. No one has the ability to be honest with any other family member. For the most part, this boils down to nothing more than the entire family having smoking habits that they keep hidden from everyone else, but these are just symptoms of deeper secrets, you see. The biggest offender is the family patriarch, Vince (Andy Garcia), a correctional facility officer who sneaks off to acting classes by telling his wife (Julianna Margulies) that he’s going to poker games.
But that’s not Vince’s greatest secret. As we soon find out, he has an illegitimate son named Tony (Steven Strait, 10,000 BC), who just happens to be locked up in the prison Vince works at. The bulk of the plot deals with Tony’s entrance into the collective lives of the Rizzos, while no one involved—besides Vince—knows the truth about who he is or his relation to the Rizzos.
All of this tangles itself with the family’s other dysfunctions and deceits, usually in light comedic terms, but this also means you have to sit through a lot of grating bickering and shouting around the dinner table. The movie also has a tendency to gravitate towards the far-fetched (like Vince finding his long-lost son in the prison he guards), the convenient (Vince’s audition for a Scorsese picture) and melodramatic—the surprise secret of Vince’s acting partner (Emily Mortimer).
You might be wondering, at this point, what the movie has going for it. The short of it is Andy Garcia, who gives the type of performance that makes you wonder why he hasn’t had a better career. He is assured and natural (especially in his scenes opposite Mortimer) and carries the bulk of the film. But what he is doing isn’t flashy. Besides the film’s big tear-jerking ending, it’s all rather unspectacular, but it’s what the film calls for. That’s exactly the type of movie City Island is—there’s nothing amazing going on, but it does work within its own limited means. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, smoking and language.