Sunday, March 07, 2010

"City Island" - Movie Review

This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening of the comedy "City Island", starring Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies and Alan Arkin


When a family's secrets become revealed to each other, will it still be possible for all of them to remain together as a unit?


For the residents of City Island, a small tract of land off of The Bronx in New York City, there are only two types of people in the world:  The Mussel Suckers and The Clam Diggers.  In this tiny fishing community that almost lives in a vacuum from the rest of New York City, these terms are very meaningful:  The Mussel Suckers are those who once lived elsewhere and eventually moved to City Island, while The Clam Diggers are those who have lived on City Island their entire lives -- maybe even occupying the same house their parents once owned a generation ago. 

One such Clam Digger is Vince Rizzo (Garcia) and his family.  A  blue collar working - class hero, Vince is employed as a prison guard somewhere in Westchester County while his wife Joyce (Margulies) earns a second income as a secretary at a law firm.  Together, they support their family, which includes a teenage son who has a sexual fetish for fat chicks and a college - age daughter attending school on a scholarship.  On the surface, everything seems peachy - keen -- until, of course, you dig a bit deeper.  There's no one in this family who isn't keeping some form of a secret from the others:  Vince has an illegitimate son from his girlfriend before his wife; Joyce is considering having an affair of her own when she suspects her husband of cheating; their son may be having his own affair with an obese neighborhood woman who runs a Web site that caters to his sexual proclivities; and their daughter is being forced to work as a stripper because she's lost her college scholarship.  Altogether, your average, wholesome, lower - middle - class family ... which only gets even more complicated once Vince runs into Tony, his illegitimate son, who is now an inmate at the prison where Vince works -- out of guilt, he brings Tony home to meet his family, but fails to divulge to him (or anyone else), their biological connection. 

Another one of Vince's secrets is the fact that he's taking acting lessons (taught by Arkin) -- he tells Joyce that he's out playing poker some nights after work when he's really attending class.  All of this while, Joyce suspects that her husband may be having an affair on the side, so out of revenge, she decides to offer herself up to Tony, who's now employed by Vince as a handyman at their house while he waits out his release from prison.  Meanwhile, Vince manages to score a callback after auditioning for a small role in a major motion picture, but Joyce in some way decides to spin this into a belief that he will be leaving her for the mistress she thinks he's been seeing on the nights of his alleged poker games.  Can Vince ultimately prove his faithfulness to his wife and somehow manage to hold the family together?


In the past few days leading up to this screening, the class was given to believe that this movie was a comedy of the likes of the original "In-Laws", starring Arkin & Peter Falk.  While the majority of the class seemed to be on - board with this comparison, I have to tell you that in all honesty I did not find this movie to be particularly funny. As a result, I can't honestly recommend it -- but based on the class reaction, it may just be to your particular taste.

Essentially, it appeared that it consisted of quirky characters plopped into outrageous circumstances and forced to deal with the fallout -- basically, a Greek tragedy turned on its ear and interwoven with something of a farce.  That's fine, but for me, at least, if you're not going to provide gags along the way, I'm going to find it rather difficult to experience this as a comedy.  Really, it seems more of a drama that's populated with people and events that are equally ridiculous.  Depending on your own sensibilities, you may very well side with the majority of the students in my movie class and see this as a straight - out comedy; for me, however, I was left scratching my head wondering what everyone else found so damned funny. 
Post - screening, the instructor conducted an interview with the movie's writer - director, Raymond De Felitta , who shared some interesting stories about the making of the movie.  First off, it had a budget of only about $6 million.  Second, it took him a long time to get this movie made -- he wrote it in 2001 and didn't get funding for it until a couple of years ago when Andy Garcia agreed to star and co - produce with him.  Lastly, the role of Garcia's wife was not cast until a couple of weeks before shooting; the director originally wanted Marcia Gay Harden, but when she had to drop out, he met with Margulies.  She asked him when the movie was expected to start shooting and he replied that it was going to be in about 10 days; when she realized that he was asking her to appear in the movie mostly out of his own desperation, she decided to agree to take the role.