May 6, 2010

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City Island (PG-13)
Andy Garcia is a man with big aspirations and big problems in City Island, a loveably goofy movie about family dreams and secrets.

Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a prison guard — or rather, as he reminds everyone, a corrections officer — who dreams of being an actor. He reads from a book about Marlon Brando each morning as he smokes the cigarettes his wife thinks he’s given up. Joyce (Juliana Marguiles) has told Vince that she has also stopped smoking — and, just like her husband, she grabs a fresh cigarette whenever he’s not around. Which is more, recently, and she fears it means he’s having an affair. Actually, he’s in the city taking an acting class, after which he works on a monologue with Molly (Emily Mortimer), a woman who encourages him to go to an open call audition for a Martin Scorsese movie. Because they are also working on an assignment requiring them to turn their most secret secret into a monologue, Vince can tell Molly what he can’t bring himself to tell Joyce — that Tony (Steven Strait), a young man he’s recently bailed out of jail and brought home to live in the family’s boat house, is the son he walked away from nearly three decades earlier. Tony doesn’t know that, but he’s quickly privy to all the other family secrets: Vince’s acting, Joyce’s feelings of abandonment, teenage son Vince Jr.’s (Ezra Miller) appreciation of (and desire for) chubby women and, eventually, the true vocation of daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido). The family thinks she’s in the city at college but in a very different line of work.

All of this drama — flavored with kitschy “aaaaaaay”s and “oooo”s and “when don’t I make it nice” that movies and TV have taught us to expect from New York Italian American families — takes place on City Island, a fishing village in the Bronx that is shown here as both lovely and “authentic.” With its beach-front homes for regular joes and its small-town appearance in the shadow of skyscrapers, City Island is the perfect “land far far away” for this once-upon-a-time to take place in.

This movie is a big cheese-covered meatball and yet I couldn’t help smiling throughout. Vince is a bit of a stereotype, sure, but also an honest, sort-of real person. Margulies might be laying on the accent and the hard squint a little thick, but she’s still rather charming. The whole movie is, at times, unforgivably cutesy but it just can’t seem to be anything but endearing. B

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, smoking and language. Written and directed by Raymond De Felitta, City Island is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Anchor Bay Films.