City Island | Raymond De Felitta, 2010
As I sat there, watching City Island, I could not help but think, “this is my family”. No, my sister is not a stripper (I don’t have any sisters anyways), my brother doesn’t get off by watching obese women eat food, and my dad doesn’t have an older kid from a relationship from long ago. What made me think this was the realistic feel that the movie has, and the way the actors perform. Yes, it sometimes is too extreme, but I feel that in movies you sometimes have to go to the extremes to be able to get your audience sympathize with your characters. I just loved this movie.
City Island (named after a little known part of the Bronx pretty much only known to its residents) follows the life of Vincent Rizzo (Andy Garcia), a man of Italian decent who works as a prison guard. However, he has wanted to be an actor for as long as he can remember and is taking acting classes secretly. He has wife (Julianna Margulies) whom secretly smokes and thinks he is having an affair, a daughter he thinks is going to college but is actually a stripper, and a son who has a fetish of seeing fat women eat. But he has the biggest secret of them all. Not only does he secretly smoke as well, but also while making his rounds at the prison he comes across a man named Tony Nardella (Steven Strait). He recognizes the name, and eventually realizes that the man is his son that he has never met from another relationship. So, since he is up to conditional parole, he decides to take him in without telling him the truth, and that is the catalyst for a series of funny and realistic events that I’m sure most people will identify with.
The movie starts out rough as we are shown the personality issues of the characters right away. They are loud, yell at each other all the time, and well, they are not very likable. However, the movie does recover once we learn Vincent’s secrets. What follows is something akin what Mike Leigh does. Now, before you get all mad and want to torch my house or something, it doesn’t even scratch the level of greatness that a Leigh script has, especially in the character development department and the dialogue (although it does seem natural). However, it does have that sense of heightened realism and the great ending where all the truths come to light with a screaming match
Also, I liked that De Felitta doesn’t do much stylistically, and he just lets the performances shine, which is what matters here. Garcia gives his best performance in a long time. Margulies does wonders with the little she has to work with and is pitch perfect and the neurotic mother a lot of us know. Emily Mortimer is charming as Vincent’s friend from acting class who pushes him to follow his dream. The one weak link is Steven Strait, who doesn’t put as much into it as the other characters, but in the grand scheme of things, his performance works.
Despite the shaky start, City Island ended up being one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.