City Island



Directed by

Raymond De Felitta




Written by

Raymond De Felitta




Release Date

April 26, 2009 (USA) (Tribeca Film Festival)





PG-13 (USA)





Andy Garcia

Julianna Margulies

Steven Strait

A critique by Daniel Taveras



City Island knew it had charm before it even completed casting.


No doubt the director, producers, and actors all collectively gave the film's 35mm reels a great big Bronx hug before shipping them off to theaters; waving goodbye with deep grins as the trucks clunked away.


Andy Garcia probably carried around the script as if it were his own child. He watched over it, kept it clean, and displayed a vast amount of pride when it grew up and went out into the cinematic world. Writer-Director Raymond De Felitta put all his personality and love into this picture. You could fool me into believing the adorably twisted people inhabiting the film were his actual relatives. His story of a less-than-functional family bleeds authenticity. Though the cast looks like a grocery list of indie cinema's top of the line bit players, they feel very rooted in their roles. Garcia's character, Vince Rizzo, is all parts doof. Loveable, tough guy doof.


Vince Rizzo comes from a long line of clam diggers; a community of homegrown fishing folk who live and breathe off the land, and take pride in their oft-unacknowledged blue-collar work. He's a prison guard (err…corrections officer) who harbors a furtive passion for the performing arts and bogus adoration for poker. His dangerously unknowing wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), assumes his fictional poker nights conceal something much worse. Margulies cuts through her lines, like a razor with an acidic tip. A woman scorned indeed. Rizzo's daughter, Vivian (played by Garcia's actual daughter, Dominik Garcia-Lorido) strips on the side, and to complete the dysfunction, Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), embraces the cliché American teenage lifestyle of sexual attraction to immense overeating.


It turns (oh, it always turns) when Vince brings home his illegitimate convict son, muscle-bound muscle sucker Tony Nardella (Steven Strait). Tony grabs hold of the moral center of the film. He's the one character unafraid of secrets. Do not doubt it: this is a film about secrets. What we keep from others and what we choose to tell, and how it will most likely get out, no matter how many locks we slam on the door.


Vince meets the lively Molly (Emily Mortimer) at his hush-hush acting classes and the two begin a strangely sweet emotional affair. Emily Mortimer does cute, and does cute well. Their scenes present the most satisfying pulp the movie has to offer. Molly's smartly written and on her toes, while Vince lumbers through the scenes with his own brand of endearing.


The film's own Twitter account advertises itself as "The 2010 Little Miss Sunshine". That could be true, yes. If done the way it should have been, that could have definitely been true. What keeps City Island from lasting as a supremely important work is its refusal to finish its arcs. The characters seem to stop short of their marks; cut off prematurely. Instead of growing naturally and living in the picture space until their flaws have turned them around they hit their ultimate apex of ineptitude and stop right there. With the exception of Vince, the "transformations" aren't convincing and flatten what are otherwise well written and interesting players.


Even with that, City Island is a film hard to hate. The most stoic and cynical moviegoers will unquestionably crack a shifted grin. Despite the dysfunction, it's a picture with an inherently sweet disposition.


And that counts for something.



Bottom Line: 4.0/5.0