City Island is a treat for movie lovers everywhere—even if you’ve never heard of the community where it takes place. (Don’t feel bad: many New Yorkers don’t even know about this quiet fishing village that’s linked to the Bronx by a narrow bridge.) One could broadly describe it as a comedy—at times, it even plays like farce—but its humor doesn’t come from gags or funny lines of dialogue. It derives, instead, from the real, recognizable emotions of a boisterous Italian-American family. That gives the film a solid emotional underpinning, and makes—
—watching it a rewarding experience.
One doesn’t automatically associate Andy Garcia with comedy, which makes his rich, robust performance all the more enjoyable. As Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer with a secret yen to be an actor, he’s a likable and wholly empathetic character. Julianna Marguiles hits just the right notes as his wife, a no-nonsense woman who feels betrayed by his seeming distance and frequent absences. It’s clear these characters love each other but can’t express their feelings. They are ably supported by Emily Mortimer, as Garcia’s acting-class partner, Alan Arkin, as his acting teacher, and Steven Strait, as a prisoner who doesn’t understand Garcia’s interest in him. Garcia’s kids harbor secrets of their own; they’re played, quite well, by Ezra Miller, as a social-misfit teenage son, and Garcia’s real-life daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido as a college-age daughter.
I became a fan of writer-director Raymond De Felitta when I saw Two Family House a decade ago. I like his sensibilities, and his fondness for characters who refuse to give up on their dreams. He was an ideal director for Paul Reiser’s likable comedy The Thing About My Folks, and now he’s back with a screenplay of his own. (He also made an unusual but first-rate documentary about an elusive jazz singer called ‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris.) Andy Garcia calls him “an Italian Woody Allen,” and the description is apt. He understands the dynamic of working-class New Yorkers and brings those characters to life with flair, and a refreshing avoidance of cliché.
City Island gave me a great deal of pleasure, and I’m sure it’s a crowd-pleaser. I hope it wins the kind of audience support it deserves.