Published Mar 25, 2010Unfortunately for City Island, talking pieces that rely on wacky concepts like "acting," "writing" and "characterization" are passé, having become "too Sundance" to be considered vital in the very trend-conscious world of film criticism and subsequent mass approval. And since no one can prop up this tale of family dysfunction to reinforce their image, it will likely be summarily dismissed and forgotten, much like one of 2009's best films, the similarly structured, if slightly more intelligent, The Vicious Kind.
The title, City Island, refers both to the small habitation in the Bronx that is part of the Pelham Islands, as well as the peculiar juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated words. It seems oxymoronic, much like the Rizzo family depicted in this film, but for some strange reason it works. It's not exactly a revolutionary allegory, but it serves the struggles of Vince (Andy Garcia) and Joyce (Juliana Margulies) well.
Vince, a prison guard, secretly smokes and studies acting, leading his family to believe he's off playing the more class-appropriate poker with his buddies, which of course leaves his wife believing him to be an adulterer. This assertion is only exacerbated by the clandestine presence of Molly (the always fantastic Emily Mortimer), an actress that works as a sounding board for Vince's personal affirmations.
Meanwhile, their son (played by Ezra Miller), fantasizes about feeding obese women confections, and their daughter (Andy Garcia's real-life daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido) moonlights as a stripper to make up for the scholarship she lost.
As a comic study of surreptitious behaviour, much of the film pivots on an almost perverse withholding of revelations and close calls, occasionally dabbling in contrivance, but thankfully nothing groan-inducing. And while the inevitable blow-out doesn't quite give the payoff promised, with Mortimer hopefully blurting out "it's Greek in scope," the build-up is wildly entertaining, featuring strong performances all around and sharp, amusing (if slightly sexist) dialogue.
With direction that is non-invasive and stylistically modest, this low-key affair acts as a showcase for Ezra Miller's inspired, smart-ass commentary and believably idiosyncratic behaviour, as well as Margulies' intense depiction of a frustrated woman tired of being taken for granted and stuck in a crappy job. It is refreshing to watch a film devoid of grandstanding pretence. (Anchor Bay)