It's warm and delicious.

City Island

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            "City Island" is a real sleeper. Sneaking into town with little advance hype, it waits for you, unheralded at a theater here or there, as a great big quirky surprise. Raymond De Felitta has written and directed a comic melodrama that is absolutely enchanting. It has been a long time since I have had this much fun watching a movie. Mr. De Felitta's terrific cast has the audience laughing, often in involuntary surprise, and yet his movie is more than a comedy; it has a big, warm heart - without being sentimental.

            The Rizzo family is built on a structure of secrets and lies. The endearing truth is that there isn't a whit of cruelty in any of the deception. Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a prison guard who tells his wife he goes to weekly poker games when he really heads straight for an acting class, an enthusiasm he can't bring himself to share with his family. Wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) naturally thinks Vince is meeting a mistress. Daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia Lorido) has become a pole dancer to earn tuition money to reenter college after losing her scholarship. Vince Jr., (Ezra Miller) is a teenager with a compulsion to watch fat women eat.

            On prison rounds one day, Vince discovers the new inmate Tony (Steven Strait) is his long lost son from an early affair. He can't, of course, bring himself to share any of this with Tony or with anyone else in the family. On the day he springs Tony from jail and brings him home for a month we are treated to one of the best family explosions ever filmed. Julianna Margulies' volcanic eruption is a triumph of comic rage.

            Whenever family sensibilities are offended, which is often, everyone yells at once. Complications multiply, resentments simmer. And yet every single person has a decent set of values that remain, in some wonderfully funny way, unviolated. In acting class, an assignment given by teacher Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin) pairs Vince with Molly (Emily Mortimer) for a monologue exercise. Refreshingly, they become friends and encouragers, not lovers, though their affection runs deep.

            In the inspired chaos of the final scenes, all players are on screen for confrontation and resolution that spins up into hugely satisfying high comedy. As the secrets and lies are revealed, their guardians recognize, hilariously, that miscommunication, not disloyalty, has been the one constant family thread.
            Julianna Margulies, ranging from sharp eyed observer to wronged woman is a hot tempered howl; Andy Garcia goes from shy student to roaring father without ever compromising his sweet tenderness. Emily Mortimer manages to encourage Vince's dreams without threatening his family. In one of the film's best lines she quietly observes of the chaos, "Greek, in scope." Their unleashed accents wander here and there in various interpretations of growing up on City Island, the Bronx. It's warm and delicious and you must promise yourself not to miss it.


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