City Island forms part of the Bronx in New York, the kind of working class district that estate agents would term as a little rough around the edges yet brimming with character charm. The same could be said for the Rizzos, a family of island natives headed by Andy Garcia (who also produced the film). They're a loud, typically Latin household but they're in danger of drifting apart because of the things they won't talk about. It's a tender and funny portrait by indie writer-director Raymond De Felitta as well as offering a new angle on one of the most filmed cities in the world.
Garcia employs his natural ability for playing the strong, silent type, but as prison guard Vince he's often forced to communicate at the top of his lungs. The inmates are mostly well-behaved, it's just that when he gets home he has trouble being heard over his touchy wife Joyce (ER's Julianna Margulies), his wisecracking son Vince Jr (Ezra Miller) and moody daughter Vivian (Garcia's real-life daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido). Joyce feels righteous in her anger because she suspects Vince of cheating. In fact he's attending acting classes and is too embarrassed to admit it.
Joyce becomes even more irate when Vince brings a convict to their beachfront home on what appears to be a DIY-themed rehabilitation programme. Only Vince knows the truth: that Tony (the impassive Steven Strait) is his son. Humour springs naturally from the building tensions within the house, inflamed by Tony's presence. He works with his hands, often shirtless, getting Joyce especially hot under the collar. Then he gets an eyeful of Vivian dancing at a strip club (pretending to be at college) and rumbles Vince Jr's own sex shame; a fetish for fat girls.
As Junior, Ezra Miller gets belly laughs without resorting to cheap gags and his crush on the heavy girl in class (disastrously asking her out for donuts) is quite touching. Garcia-Lorido appears to have inherited the brooding intensity her father is known for and it's no surprise that they should have an easy onscreen chemistry. Margulies is the crazy glue that holds them all together with so much ranting and raving, but sympathy for her doesn't wane (even as she tries to seduce Tony) because the pain she feels at an imagined betrayal is very real. Garcia is a revelation too, showing off brilliant comic instincts, including a deliriously funny Marlon Brando impression.
There is an element of farce which strains credibility at times along with Tony's divine knack for intervention. Still, unlike many indie filmmakers De Felitta resists too much quirkiness, favouring sharply observed dialogue and the natural rapport between his actors. Simple scenes around the dinner table are among the most memorable. Garcia also finds a study partner in the shape of Emily Mortimer and their friendship adds a sweet twist. In a small role as their acting teacher Alan Arkin delivers a great monologue on the curse of dramatic pauses which, as well as being very droll, fits perfectly with De Felitta's own barebones approach. This isn't a revolution in filmmaking, but a rare kind of comedy where the actors keep it real.
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