The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

City Island

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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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City Island

The title seems a contradiction in terms and chances are, if you did not grow up in the New York Metropolitan area, you’ve never heard of it.

City Island is a real place, a one-square mile neighborhood attached to the Bronx by bridge. The tiny island resembles a fishing village and is a welcome anomaly to its residents, who value its uniqueness. Those who never leave are called clam diggers; non-residents or those who move away are called mussel suckers.

So we are told by Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) a third-generation clam digger, raising a family in the house his grandfather built. He’s a prison guard with secrets. Wife Joyce (Juliana Margulies) is suspicious of his frequent poker games, but she’s got a nicotine-laden secret herself. Daughter Vivian (Dominick Garcia-Lorido) is about to rejoin the family during her college spring break – or so she’d like them to think. She’s actually an “exotic dancer”, to put it nicely, a stripper to put it candidly. Son Vince Jr. or Vinnie (Ezra Miller) is a smartass whose personal turn-on is feeding women, and not petite women either, mind you. As you might guess, he does not broadcast this “interest” to the rest of his family.

Rizzo hides acting books in the bathroom. Brando is a personal hero. Cigarettes are a guilty pleasure. The surprise appearance of his adult son Tony (Steven Strait) from a pre-marital fling into one of his jail cells prompts him to bring the felon home with him under the guise of being a hired handyman. Plot devices allow this to happen legally and somewhat believably.

Predictably, Joyce is outraged, Vivian is initially attracted, Vinnie is amused, and Vince does his best to incorporate the new arrival into his home. What’s not so predictable is how the comedy of errors unfolds, revealing everyone’s secrets and foibles a little at a time, like peeling away the layers of an artichoke to get to its heart. Naturally, monumental misunderstandings factor into the equation; they have to, or there’s no fun, no anticipatory trouble, no wacky truth bombs lobbed like grenades at unsuspecting family members.

A side plot involves Vince’s acting class headed by Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin) who assigns the class to pair up for an exercise in…revealing their biggest secret to each other. Vince ends up partnered with Molly (Emily Mortimer) who becomes his confidant, extracting his secrets from him while holding out a bit longer on her own. No, they don’t fall in love, but serve as sounding boards and cheerleaders for each other. Think Joyce will understand? I’d say fat chance, but that belongs in Vinnie’s plotline.

Meanwhile Tony, who does not know that Vince is his dad, stumbles upon clues to all of the family’s individual secrets, while Joyce begins to view him (Tony) as an amorous possibility. Tony is thinking along the same lines. Vince, encouraged by Molly, goes on his first audition. Vinnie keeps company with a 350 pound woman, and Vivian misses the money she makes at the club so she does something about it, which leads to her discovery by Tony and sparks a volatile family confession in which all members cough up their bombshells. The spark comes from how all of this unravels, which I’ll leave you to discover.

Andy Garcia goes blue collar, alternating gruff with angry with sweet in a role that will have you wishing him well in all areas of his City Island existence. Julianna Margulies, here with straight hair for a change, fills Joyce with explosives that make her a force to be reckoned with (sexual and otherwise). Alan Arkin’s tiny role serves as a lightning rod, or ground zero for Vince’s revelations. Arkin is Arkin, and usually that’s enough.

Dominick Garcia-Lorido (Andy Garcia’s actual daughter) possesses a penchant for comedic timing. Ezra Miller may soon have an Apatow-like comedy centered around himself – just speculation – but the young actor can hold a scene or even steal it occasionally. Steven Strait shows a range of looks and attitudes in his portrayal of Tony that predicts we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Emily Mortimer, although well-meaning, is distractingly twitchy in the role of Molly, as if she is not capable of holding her face still for even a few seconds of meaningful pause. Molly is supposed to have been born and raised in Schenectady, New York, but the London-born actress slipped in and out of an English accent so often, you’d begin to wonder if THAT was her secret (not really an American citizen, etc.).

Writer/director Raymond De Felitta (Bronx Cheers) rarely gets sentimental, preferring absurd humor and sharp dialogue to propel his characters. Although the stripper angle is a bit tired, it’s mercifully short, concentrating on Vivian and not her profession. He DID let Emily Mortimer get away with a muddled accent, though. Nevertheless, City Island is a charming tale of aspirations, discoveries and ultimate acceptance.

And it all happens in a place that’s a world apart from its surroundings, a tiny, improbable fishing village just off of the Bronx, where the truth really does set you free. Or at the very least, gets you out of handcuffs.
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