By Don Simpson | April 16, 2010
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Writer: Raymond De Felitta
Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Emily Mortimer, Ezra Miller, Alan Arkin
Vince (Andy Garcia), a prison guard – ahem – correctional officer, suspiciously leaves his family one night each week for a “poker game.” His wife Joyce (Julianna Margolies) suspects that Vince is having an affair – justly so, since Vince apparently does not have any friends. Vince is indeed not playing poker, nor is he stepping out on his wife; rather he is quite innocently pursuing his childhood fantasy. He fears that Joyce will not understand his love for acting or the other secrets that he has been hiding for the entirety of their marriage. Then again, every member of Vince’s Italian-American family – the Rizzos (no relation to Philadelphia’s infamous Italian-American mayor, Frank Rizzo) – has their very own deep dark secrets (for one: they are all clandestine smokers). I might even go as far as saying that the Rizzos are all continuously performing in the never-ending role playing charades of their lives.
(Being that City Island does not make any efforts to hide the characters’ secrets from the audience I am going to reveal several of their secrets within this review. So for those of you who think that you may consider this to be a spoiler, you might as well stop reading now. Sorry.)
Before I go any further, I should probably discuss the title of the film. City Island (two words that seem quite contradictory) is a quaint fishing village – a one square mile island – in the Bronx. (Just imagine a small New England seaside village overrun by blue collar New Yorkers and you’ll get the picture.) Two types of people live on City Island, those who were born there (clam diggers?) and those who moved there (muscle suckers). City Island is where the Rizzos reside – in Vince, the clam digger’s, childhood home.
Now, back to Vince – he is barely a rung up the evolutionary ladder from Rocky Balboa. A true blue-collar proletariat, Vince is not college educated. Though he seems to think more highly of himself (shown in his disdain whenever he is referred to as a “prison guard” and his showing up in a suit to a casting call for a middle-aged blue-collar role), eventually his working class roots do pay off.
Joyce is an administrative assistant – essentially she answers phones all day. At least to start off the film, she is the Rizzo with the least amount of secrets. Joyce is also the character with the least back-story or development. Really all we know about Joyce is that she is very bitter, frustrated and lonely as Vince’s wife – and she can hold her own in any verbal altercation.
Vince and Joyce’s teenage son, Vinnie Jr. (Ezra Miller), has no respect for his parents and he is damn near uncontrollable (exemplified best during his outrageous dinner table antics – if I had ever spoken to my parents like that I would still be hiccupping soap bubbles 20+ years later). Vinnie refuses to attend his classes at school; he would rather feed donuts to fat girls. At first we think he’s being mean with the donuts comment, but it turns out that Vinnie has a fetish for BBW’s – that’s Big Beautiful Women for those of you who don’t know the codeword (that’s “Botero”). Vinnie quite literally wants to feed the gluttony of BBW’s. The Rizzos’ neighbor – the queen of all BBW’s (she appears to be on par with Gilbert Grape’s mother) – helps Vinnie come out as a “feeder.” (Cue Morrissey’s “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” here; heck, spin The Smiths’ “Some Girls are Bigger than Others” next.)
Then there is Vivian – Vince and Joyce’s daughter. She is supposedly home from college on Spring Break, but Vivian’s secret is that she was temporarily kicked out of college for possession of pot – the bigger problem is that she also lost her scholarship. So, in order to save up money to return to college, Vivian works as a stripper – with a newly purchased boob-job and all. The location of the strip club is somewhat confusing; however it appears to be on City Island which is way too small of a town for one to be hiding a secret profession from their family. I’m also wondering how long Vivian has been out of school if she has already been able to save up enough cash for a boob-job.
It eventually takes two outsiders – Molly (Emily Mortimer) and Tony (Steven Strait) – to save the Rizzos from self-destructing due to their propensity for lies and frustrating lack of communication. Molly is Vince’s acting partner. She too is full of pretences – Molly has a secret that rivals Vince’s. Luckily their acting teacher, Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin), assigns them a homework assignment to reveal to each other their deepest secret – which thus propels both of them on a path of honesty and self-realization. Tony – an inmate at the correctional facility where Vince works – is a bastard son of a redheaded drunken slut. (No joke!) Vince happened to know that redheaded drunken slut, so he arranges for Tony’s parole and moves Tony to City Island to remodel his boat shed (a perfect excuse for Tony to strut around the Rizzos’ house sweaty and shirtless). The smalltime crook promptly becomes ensnared in the Rizzos’ Grecian (more precisely, Oedipal) web of deceptions; but Tony is also the key that can unlock all of their secrets.
In the end, Vince discovers the importance of being true to his inner self and his dreams. The truth sets him (and the rest of the Rizzos) free. I would not deny that writer-director Raymond De Filitta’s City Island seems quite contrived and over the top with an all too neatly wrapped-up ending. (For a film that speaks so brilliantly against dishonesty, City Island is full of directorial deceit and narrative fakeness.) However, this is Hollywood and City Island is an engrossingly outrageous comedy with an outstanding cast and a very positive message. City Island features one of the best performances of Andy Garcia’s career; and Ezra Miller steals every scene in which he appears.
City Island is not without its problems, though. Firstly, I wonder how many people this film will actually appeal to. I have read several negative reviews in which the critics felt as though the tone was too dark and hateful – and I don’t doubt that a lot of viewers will respond similarly. I too don’t like listening to characters yell at each other for an entire film, but I think the tone of City Island works rather well (a testament to the great dialogue and performances).
My criticisms are more structural and procedural. The opening monologue could have been handled much more effectively if it was not done as a voiceover. I also think the film would have been more impressive if more of the secrets were withheld from the audience until later in the timeline.
And I’m still not sure how I feel about Vinnie’s gluttonous fetish. Gluttony is not a joking matter, nor should it be fed (mind the pun) – if anything, America’s propensity for unhealthy diets and over-eating needs to be curtailed if we are ever going to make any headway in health care reform.