' Cinema Romantico: City Island

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

City Island

Location is often key in movies but never has it been more important than in Raymond de Fellita's just released film where the opening voiceover informs us the City Island of the title is a tiny fishing community in the Bronx surrounded by the waters of the Long Island Sound and Eastchester Bay. "Most people don't believe it until they see it," we are told. This location - "New England by way of Washington Heights" - is both heightened and romantic and, in turn, sets the film's tone. It's old fashioned, operatic, and concludes with all the major characters - and there is a lot of 'em - spilling onto the moonlit street to confess their secrets, and don't presume I've given it away because you know from the opening minute a film of this sort has to end this way. It's "Moonstruck" in the Bronx instead of Brooklyn.

Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a correctional officer and head of a noisy household where dinner always ends in loud arguments with his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies), his young son Vinnie (Ezra Miller) and now their daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcio-Lorido, striking) who is home from college. No doubt they are so tightly wound on account of the clandestine way they lead their lives. Everyone smokes but no one knows this. Vinnie is addicted to internet porn in the form of, shall we say, overly-hefty women who eat - a lot - on camera. Vivian has, in fact, dropped out of college and is now employed as a stripper as a means to earn enough money to re-apply. Vince has a regular poker game that isn't really a poker game but an acting class (Alan Arkin is its teacher and his initial monologue is the funniest I've seen so far this year). He dreams, desperately, to be like his hero, Marlon Brando, whose biography he reads and keeps hidden amongst the towels in the bathroom.

At his acting class Vince is given a partner, Molly (Emily Mortimer), and they are presented an exercise in which they are each to divulge their most secretive secret in order to give a monologue about it at a later class. This functions as nifty way to dramatize the pasts of these two characters and it allows for Vince to tell Molly of the biggest bombshell he is keeping to himself.

Vince comes to the realization that a new prisoner, Tony (Steven Strait), happens to the son of the woman on whom Vince ran out many years ago. (This is not a spoiler. It is revealed straight away.) Tony is on the verge of release but has no family to be released to so Vince volunteers, bringing a convict to live in a home already rife with tension.

The film's most refreshing aspect is its refusal to pander to the characters. No one here is bad, they just have problems, you know? These people can be cold but it's only because they care. There are numerous situations ripe for the implementation of the Idiot Plot (coinage: Roger Ebert) but they never materialize. The gravest decision made by Joyce is certainly unkind but the reason she makes it rings true because it's simply on account of what she thinks is payback. Meanwhile the relationship between Vince and Molly remains platonic where a lesser movie, if not adding a whole romantic subplot, would have at least had them caught in some sort of asinine compromising position. Instead these two help to draw out crucial characteristics in the other, like Molly convincing Vince to go for an audition which - and I don't want to get too hark the herald angels here - is certainly the finest movie audition in a movie I've seen in a number of years.

Sure, sure, the way the movie ends is not how things are resolved in real life. But who's to say it's not how they are resolved on City Island?

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