City Island -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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NEW YORK -- The folks living in the bucolic urban fishing village of City Island in the Bronx should brace themselves for an assault of visitors if Raymond De Felitta's film gets widespread exposure. A comedy of family dysfunction that sneaks up on you despite its wholly predictable elements, "City Island" is a low-key charmer that showcases topliner Andy Garcia's heretofore underutilized comic talents.

The story concerns the sort of eccentric family that typically populates these sorts of indie efforts. In the case of the Rizzo clan, each has a secret.

Patriarch Vince (Garcia) is a correctional officer who dreams of becoming an actor, surreptitiously taking acting classes while claiming to be playing poker with the guys. Wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) suspects that he's having an affair and begins to contemplate having one herself. Son Vinnie (Ezra Miller) has a fetish for obese women, and daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) secretly works as a stripper.

But the biggest secret concerns Vince's illegitimate son Tony (Steven Strait), who he had abandoned years earlier and who shows up as a prisoner in the jail where he works. Managing to secure a 30-day release for the unaware Tony, Vince brings him home to stay with his family, resulting in general confusion about his motives for everyone concerned.

Tony's presence, as well as Vince's surprising callback after auditioning for a Martin Scorsese movie at the urging of acting class friend Molly (Emily Mortimer), results in a series of escalating farcical complications.

Director-screenwriter De Felitta ("Two Family House") piles on the absurdities a bit thick, but his obvious affection for the characters and the genuinely amusing situations and dialogue easily compensate for the many contrivances.

The performances, too, are delightful. Garcia is terrifically appealing in his uncharacteristic turn, with his hilarious audition scene providing the film's highlight. Margulies, also not generally known for her comedic skills, scores consistent laughs as the abrasive Joyce, as does young Miller as the fat-fetishist son and the ever-reliable Alan Arkin as Vince's beleaguered acting teacher.

Vanja Cernjul's cinematography beautifully captures the picturesque charms of the film's previously underexposed setting.