Directed by Raymond De Felitta
There's a lot in City Island to roll your eyes about, so much that it's a cinema miracle the movie should be so ultimately likable. For starters, it's packed with crazy plot contrivances and supporting characters straight out of creative writing class assignments—people to talk to, full of wisdom, to serve as catalysts to revelation. Writer-director De Felitta conspicuously admires Woody Allen, even borrowing (crassly) Manhattan's 59th St. Bridge moneyshot. But it's his stated appreciation for James L. Brooks that shows through: the movie's facility, and silly musical cues, come more from classic television than Hannah and Her Sisters. And yet, the movie sports a low-rent loveliness. City Island is this generation's Moonstruck, minus all the Academy Awards I'm sure, with its Italian-American ethnic caricatures and, most of all, its expert comic performances, which successfully walk that fine line between exaggerated and over-the-top.
Set in the little known Bronx community of the title, a white picket fences fishing village, "New England by way of Washington Heights," the Breezy Point of New York City North, the movie centers on a family steeped in secrets: everyone smokes but hides it from one another; the father (Andy Garcia, in a big, dumb, irritable puppy dog performance) is taking acting classes while he says he's at a "poker game," and he has a grown son (Steven Strait) from a previous relationship about whom no one knows; his wife (Julianna Margulies, so marvelous she proves herself underused, in movies anyway) suspects he's having an affair and tries to have one of her own; Garcia's legitimate teenage son (Afterschool's Ezra Miller) has a big-girls fetish and pornography habit; the daughter (Dominik García-Lorido) is furtively working as a stripper to earn money to return to the college from which she was suspended. (One wishes her gruesomely authentic working class accent, in which "sure" sounds like "shew-uh," were a better-kept secret.) It's like Tokyo Sonata, loosely remade for American TV.
The family frequently erupts into epic bickering, jumping on each other over every stray remark, as we would expect from such hot-a headed Italians. The animus, rooted in mendacity, builds to a hilarious confessional climax, a wild set piece cheekily set on a cul-de-sac, in front of a large street sign that reads "END". Every secret is revealed—I'm an ak-tuh! I got a pawt in duh Skaw-saze-ee pitch-uh!—every anxiety allayed, and the dysfunctional family made functional again through honesty, which remains the best policy. Everyone learns some sort of lesson. It's Heartwarming in the groaniest sense but, thanks to the unexpected strengths of its performances, it actually Feels Good, too. You can see why it picked up the audience award at last year's Tribeca Film Festival.
Opens March 19