'City Island' a fine place to visit


POSTED: Friday, April 30, 2010

City Island is a forgotten neighborhood of the Bronx, and the residents like it that way. A spit of land only a square-mile large, it juts out into Long Island Sound, opposite Port Washington, a tidy, two-story suburb, an oasis of New England beach life a short commute from the concrete canyons of New York City.

Writer-director Raymond De Felitta clearly has some sort of love affair going on with City Island. He not only made it the place and the title of this raucous domestic comedy, he seems to have absorbed the out-of-kilter rhythms of the place. This is a terrific little film that will appeal to those who liked fables like “;The Blind Side”; and “;Moonstruck.”;

Every time Vince Rizzo says he's a corrections officer, people always correct him to “;prison guard?”; He shrugs and takes it, but doesn't stop with the self-image he prefers. A couple of nights a week, Vince claims he's out at a poker game; edgy wife Joyce smells a mistress. It's far worse than that. Vince is taking acting lessons. He wants to be Brando. He can't even act well enough to convince his wife.






        Rated: PG-13


Opens today at Consolidated Kahala






Daughter Vivian is home for spring break. She's trying not to let her parents know that she got booted out of school and is moonlighting as a stripper to earn back her tuition money. Son Vinnie is a decidedly odd teenager whose idea of perusing Internet porn sites includes overweight women eating a lot. All of them, each and every one, smoke cigarettes and are convinced the rest of family doesn't know. They're so noisily dysfunctional that meals invariably wind up as brawls.

One day, a new prisoner has a name that Vince recognizes. He checks, and sure enough, Tony Nardella is his long-lost son. Another secret.

In acting class, the teacher assigns a true-emotion homework task—partner up with someone else in the class and deal with a secret. Vince confides about Tony to Molly, a lovely British transplant, and before you know it, Vince and Molly are not only opening their hearts to one another, Vince has Tony furloughed into his custody. Tony, a good-looking young fellow, does work around the house with his shirt off. Joyce can't help but notice ...

...You see where this is going. “;City Island”; has the structure of classic farce, and De Fellita wisely turns up the friction so that later twists have emotional weight, and manages to keep things surprising from moment to moment. Life is surprising that way.

The screenplay is clever and nuanced. Things happen that bear thinking about. For example, much is made at the beginning of the difference between City Island residents and everyone else—“;clamdiggers”; and “;mussel suckers”;—but when Vince explains it to Tony, Tony just shrugs. So what?

It's the nonreaction that counts here. Most screenplays are so revelation-driven that the characters are commanded by the plot. Here, we're observing people under a wacky kind of pressure they've inflicted on themselves. It's pretty delicious.

As Vince and Joyce, Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies give smashing performances, full of brio. Margulies is swell at flinty sass, and does great things for tight jeans. Although it's a little early in the year, Garcia ought to be an Oscar nod for his regular-guy performance here, reminiscent of “;Marty.”; As Molly, Emily Mortimer is a tragic angel. She's the most surprising of all.

Another thing. These people yell at each other a lot, and they're unreasonably angry part of the time, and this is set in blue-collar New York. And yet—and maybe I missed it—there's no foul language. At least none that left a mark.