Meet the Rizzos, a family that might get along a lot better if only they could tell each other the truth. Dad Vince is the worst offender. But since the prison guard won't even admit that poker night is in fact acting class, how's he ever going to explain about his illegitimate son? His daughter works as a stripper when she's supposed to be in college, while young Vinnie Jr has a secret sexual fetish that involves a 24-hour webcam and the family's 300-pound neighbour. Vince's wife Joyce is the family's rock, but it's been a year since she enjoyed intimacy with her husband, and it's no surprise she thinks poker night spells A-F-F-A-I-R. When former prisoner Tony enters the Rizzos' lives, Joyce begins to suspect that the handsome young Tony isn't who Vince says he is.

Real truth at heart of funny family.

Movies want to be liked, but often it’s really hard to like them back. Screen stories can seem too exotic, too remote, characters too mechanical. It’s easy to be cynical about blockbusters but 'small’ movies about 'real’ people battling to get by can be just as baldly manipulative. There’s a lot of cold calculation behind the desire to make an audience 'feel good’, mostly because many of them don’t have the sense of lived experience to back up their all smiles 'n’ tears happy endings.

City Island is deadpan funny and intensely likable, mostly because it understands that people are far from perfect and they rarely get what they want. In it, everyone lies but it’s not hard to understand why, and that’s a great trick of really good dramatic writing; from the start the audience gets a chance to understand these people. We might not like what they do but we do get a glimpse into their inner drives.

In essence the movie, written and directed by Raymond De Felitta, is a broad, almost farcical, provincial comedy. The setting is the little Bronx fishing village of the title, a pretty place where the accents are thick and the dreams are modest.

Vince (Andy Garcia) is a prison guard who wants to be an actor. Vince has a kind of cultural cringe; folks from City Island don’t become actors. Ashamed of his ambition, he tells his understandably cranky wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), he’s playing poker on those evenings he’s actually trying to 'play" scenes; and of course she assumes he’s having an affair.

Vince’s brood are liars too, in the sense they’re hiding something. His son Vinnie (Ezra Miller) surfs the internet for 'big girl’ porn. His daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcio-Lorido), tells her family she’s in college when in fact she’s a pole-dancer.

Since this is an old fashioned kind of sit-com, complications quickly arise. Vince discovers that a new prisoner, Tony (Steven Strait), is actually his son from a love affair soured long ago. When Vince takes Tony, a bloke of real masculine beauty, into home-custody, both the women of the house get excited. At this point the comic possibilities hit critical mass; but still, there’s more. Vince has a new acting partner, Molly (Emily Mortimer). They are set a classic actor’s exercise; they are to confess to the other the biggest secret of their lives. Molly and Vince start to share the kind of intimacies lovers do.

Part of the charm of City Island is that De Felitta shoots and directs this bubbly plot in a style closer to low-key indie drama, rather than say, Meet the Fockers. Most of the comedy is in the way the characters creep up and surprise you. There’s a really beautiful and hilarious scene halfway through where Vince is doing an open audition for a Scorsese picture. Vince starts his bit by imitating Brando. But the casting agent patiently and carefully chips away at his amateurish mannerisms until there’s only Vince left.

That scene is like a metaphor for the movie; all the characters have a chance to 'coach’ one another in an old reliable life truth – be yourself. De Felita knows this idea is more than a little corny; especially since so much of the movie is about how people hear only what they want. Still, there’s a purity here that’s really sweet; the storylines don’t quite play out like movie moments. Friendships don’t end in bed; betrayals don’t end in blood. Everybody gets embarrassed and feels bad, but they go on. The tears and smiles feel real. Now that’s a happy ending.


1 hour 44 min
In Cinemas 27 May 2010,
Wed, 03/16/2011 - 11