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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CITY ISLAND -- DVD review by porfle

When the heck did Andy Garcia get old enough to play the dad? The cocky young Vincent Corleone from GODFATHER III now sports a paunch and a few gray hairs, and he looks old enough to be Vincent Corleone's godfather.  (Message to Francis Coppola--maybe this would be a good time to start thinking about Part IV.)  But he's convincing not only as an honest-to-goodness dad-type, but as the head of a family of eccentrics whose closely-guarded secrets keep them constantly at odds with each other.  In the offbeat comedy-drama CITY ISLAND (2009), it's this tendency to withhold information from loved ones that leads to what are known as "comic complications."

City Island is a scenic oceanfront oasis in the middle of the Bronx, where Vincent Rizzo (Garcia) is a hard-working corrections officer.  When a newly-arrived young prisoner named Tony (Steven Strait) misses out on an early parole because he has no family to take him in, Vincent springs him from jail himself and moves him into a shack behind his house.  Why?  Because he's Tony's father, having had a short-lived affair with his mother years ago.  But he doesn't tell Tony that he's his father, so Tony thinks he's just nuts or something. 

Vincent also doesn't tell his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) that he's taking acting classes because he yearns to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Marlon Brando.  The frustrated Joyce, who thinks Vincent's fooling around with another woman, throws herself at Tony to get revenge.  Their daughter Vivian (Garcia's real-life daughter, Dominik GarcĂ­a-Lorido), who's supposedly on spring break, fails to mention that she's working as a stripper because she lost her college scholarship.  And their oddball adolescent son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is understandably reticent to reveal his obsession with extremely obese women, which is kicked into overdrive when he discovers that the gluttonous BBW he admires on the internet lives next door.  With all of this deception going on, it's hardly surprising that each member of the family is also a secret smoker, sneaking off to grab a few surreptitious puffs whenever no one else is looking.

While CITY ISLAND sounds like some goofy farce that wrings easy laughs out of such situations, it's actually surprisingly realistic and heartfelt most of the time.  The characters are believable despite their quirks, and their volatile interactions (this is one of those Italian families whose dinner conversation includes lots of yelling and swearing) are kept from going over the top into bug-eyed slapstick. 

One of the best things about CITY ISLAND is that it doesn't think it's nearly as cute as it might have in lesser hands.  Writer-director Raymond De Felitta allows the various comic elements just enough room to breathe while staying rooted in reality.  Even so, he occasionally surprises us with something so delightfully unexpected that it evokes hilarity, such as Vincent's extreme reaction when Joyce tells him she's been fooling around with Tony.  My favorite bit is when Vincent is scolding Vivian for forgetting her school books as he drives her home from the bus station--when she cries "Stop, Dad!" he ignores her, then crashes into a parked car.

The film switches gears now and then to include a little pathos, mainly during the warm conversations between Vincent and a friend from acting class, a bubbly Englishwoman named Molly (Emily Mortimer) who lends moral support and encourages him to attend an audition for a Scorcese film.  (Molly harbors a sad secret of her own which is revealed later on.)  Another bit that strikes a melancholy note is the sight of Vincent's venerable acting coach Mr. Malakov, played by the even more venerable Alan Arkin, standing in line for the audition with hundreds of other shlubs and walking away dejectedly when he's dismissed.  Vincent's own turn in front of the casting agents begins with him clumsily aping Brando and then, prompted to improvise, taking a comical stab at the kind of tough-guy characters Andy Garcia has played in the past. 

With all the deception going on, we know that sooner or later the Rizzos are going to have an all-revealing showdown which doesn't disappoint.  The comedy and drama are deftly balanced with Garcia and Margulies pulling it all off like the seasoned pros they are and the younger castmembers holding their own as well.  (The final scenes do skirt the edge of bathos just a tad, but mostly manage to avoid it.)  Ezra Miller as Vince Jr. is particularly good as the wisecracking but deeply insecure tweener who must deal with his own burgeoning obsessions while also serving as the wryly witty observer of his elders' peculiarities.  Not sure if I should admit it, but his character reminded me a lot of me at that age.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, a featurette entitled "Dinner With the Rizzos" with Felitta and his cast discussing the film over some pasta, deleted scenes, and a trailer. 

With Andy Garcia's warm, funny, solid performance as its foundation, CITY ISLAND benefits from a sharply-written script and a likable cast who play it to a tee.  It isn't a perfect film--at times it seems to wander around a bit before regaining its stride--but I didn't mind wandering with it. 

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