“City Island” - An Isle of Familial Lies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
When I lived in New York I’d occasionally drive out to City Island for seafood. Despite being within a stone’s throw of New York City, it’s a separate culture. This 252-acre spit of land is technically a part of the Bronx, but has the look of a New England fishing village. Its 4,520 residents operate some 30 restaurants, assorted antique shops, two supermarkets, a gas station, a pharmacy, and a bank. Notable residents have ranged from silent film actor Harry Carey to Lucchese crime family underboss Salvator Santoro.
Former “Godfather III” star Andy Garcia recently spent time on City Island, filming a dark comedy called … what else? … “City Island.” In it, he plays the patriarch of a dysfunctional family that finds it easier to bend the truth than walk a straight line.
“City Island” is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema. One moviegoer described it as “a character film that’s masquerading as a situation comedy.”
Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a frustrated prison guard who longs to be an actor, so he’s secretly taking lessons. His wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) knows he’s lying about this so-called poker night, and suspects him of having an affair. His daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) claims she attending college, but instead is working as a stripper. Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is pursuing a sexual fetish that involves a 300-pound neighbor. And a mysterious ex-con (Steven Strait) who has been befriended by Vince seems to have a hidden past that Joyce is determined to sniff out.
Yet there’s hope for the Rizzo family as an angel-like acting-class partner (Emily Mortimer) helps set Vince straight, and layers of familial deception are slowly pealed away.
“We are all scared of what everyone thinks of our dreams and the process of exposure is so painful,” observes writer-director Raymond de Felitta.
A native New Yorker, de Felitta knows his subject. “These are the Italians in the outer boroughs that I grew up around,” he says. “So I know how they speak and where they’re from, so for me it’s natural and the easiest thing to write.”
For some reason, Cuban-born Andy Garcia winds up playing Italians in a lot of movies (“The Untouchables,” “Hoodlum,” “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” etc.). There’s nobody to blame but himself for the role in “City Island,” for he co-produced the low-budget indie film.
“Originally, because Vince is an Italian-American, I thought either Robert DeNiro or James Gandolfini,” admits de Felitta. “But they were not available … then my agent came up with Andy and I thought, Andy is like an honorary Italian – he is in ‘The Godfather’ so he is an Italian. He is an everyman.”
In addition to Garcia, “City Island” offers a cast of very familiar faces. You know Julianna Margulies from her 135 episodes of TV’s “ER” and her 42 episodes (so far) of the hit CBS show “The Good Wife.” Steven Strait starred as that handsome caveman in “10,000 B.C.” Oscar-winner Alan Arkin took a small role as a favor to his pal Andy Garcia. And Dominik Garcia-Lorido is Andy’s real-life daughter, voted one of 2005’s Fifty Most Beautiful People by People Magazine.
“The characters were so unique, so quirky,” says Andy Garcia, “it reminded you of home.”
Well, his home maybe. Mine’s dull by comparison.
[from Solares Hill]