A couple of nights ago while browsing Netflix for a new movie to watch, I came across an independent film called City Island. It tells the story of the Rizzos – a dysfunctional family living in the small, sleepy fishing village of City Island in the Bronx, New York. Even though the film looked a little bit like the East Coast version of Little Miss Sunshine, I was willing to give it a try and I’m very glad I did. There’s nothing that I enjoy more than going into a film with low expectations and having every single one of my doubts shattered.
City Island, written and directed by Raymond De Felitta, could easily have fallen into the trap that many independent films do, which is trying too hard to be quirky and unconventional, thus making it the exact opposite, but the authentic performances of an immensely talented cast, and the earnest script make the audience forget about any predictability the resolution of the film might contain.
Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is an Italian, tough-talking prison guard and City Island native. But there’s much more to Vince than meets the eye. While he tells his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) that he is going to play poker with his friends, he is really taking acting classes in the city where he forms a bond with a young aspiring actress played by the charming Emily Mortimer. But Vince isn’t the only one in the family with a secret.
His rebellious son, Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), has some peculiar and unexpected fetishes, his smart-mouthed daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) was kicked out of college and is now finding other means to pay for her tuition. But the plot really thickens when Vince brings home an ex-con named Tony (Steven Strait) to stay with him and his family for reasons unknown to Joyce. As Joyce is suspecting her husband is having an affair instead of going to poker games, she begins a mutually flirtatious relationship with Tony that can only bring disastrous consequences.
An aspect of the film that caught me off guard was that despite how frustrating many of the characters and their choices can be, you wind up loving them for their flaws just like you would members of your own family. All of the bickering, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations among the Rizzos eventually lead to an airing out of everyone’s dirty laundry and an ending that leaves the audience with the message of the importance of being honest with yourself and, most importantly, with the ones you love.
What the plot of City Island lacks in originality, it makes up for it with the hilarious, genuine, and spot-on performances of the actors and the sharp, witty dialogue. The cinematography was also extremely well done. The nautical tones of blue and turquoise normally associated with east coast fishing towns set the overall tone for the film but the accents of bright saturated colors add an undertone of chaos and turmoil that the Rizzo family going through.
The story of a family in crisis might be one that’s been done before, but City Island brings a freshness and warmth to that story in a way I’ve never seen before. City Island is a touching, well acted, and well-written film that will leave the audience with a smile on their face and a couple of heartstrings tugged.