Five minutes into writer/director Raymond De Felitta’s charming, slice of life movie City Island you realize you’re someplace familiar, invited to kick off your shoes, relax and settle in for a wonderfully nuanced, albeit quirky story that might as easily be about your own neighbors if not a little closer to home. We find ourselves at the doorstep of the Rizzo’s home and the maelstrom of their lives that is fueled as much by unrealized dreams and harmless deceit as best intentions and woeful but loveable family drama. It is apparent from the beginning that relatable characters are at the heart of the story and though manufactured in no short detail, the plot moves us toward an eventual confrontation of wills that is disarmingly genuine and heartfelt, with a little silly mixed in for good measure. Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies are perfectly wrong together and their verbal batting matches are delivered with an ease as though they’ve spent a lifetime getting it right.
Andy Garcia needs no introduction here with over 60 film roles and notable credit as a producer, director, writer and composer on many diverse and award-winning projects. As Vince Rizzo, his befuddled, well-intentioned performance as the patriarch of the family, a correctional officer during the day who secretly pines to be an actor at night, is touching and funny without soapy antics or sentimental caricature. Julianna Margulies is the brass matriarch with a temper and a voice to deliver it, her own issues and deliberate resistance to change a necessary safety mechanism to feelings of lost dreams and misdemeanors. There is something of the actor showing through her character, Joyce that plays like real world regret or maybe a sense of vacant appreciation for a career that has remained mostly on television. She stretches out in this role and it suits her. Ezra Miller and Dominik Garcia-Lorido are the prototypical offspring; lovable in that forced way parents have to love their children regardless of how peculiar they are, children who harbor their own secrets that bob and surface at the most inopportune time in the emotional caldron of family. But it the civil unrest seems as normal to the Rizzo family as special dinners that are always special until Vince (Garcia) brings a young man home from prison who is actually his son from a prior relationship only he’s the only one who knows it. The story moves quickly enough and delivers serious and humor with equal charge.
City Island, according to Wikipedia, is a small island 1 ½ miles long by ½ a mile wide and is part of New York City borough of the Bronx with a population of approximately 4,500. The setting is unique and lends a kind of refreshing quality to an otherwise familiar tale. We’re told early on that City Island is a place between places, that it comprises two sets of people – those born on the island, and those not. In a family caught between places, it is apparent the lives portrayed here are every bit as poised in the space where happiness and drama live side by side and share similar stories that never truly get old. Raymond De Felitta (Shadow of a Doubt, Two Family House) reminds us how small films blossom beyond the clay and plastic pots that contain them and sometimes, every now and again, we see a little of ourselves there or a glimpse of people we want to be.