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City Island (Blu-ray Review)

30 Aug, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Anchor Bay
Box Office $6.7 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sexual content, smoking and language.
Stars Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Alan Arkin, Emily Mortimer.

Though Andy Garcia has always been an appealing enough actor, few would argue that he has been any kind of Mr. Marquee over the past few years, no matter how sterling he was as the voice of “Delgado” in Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Thus, it came as a surprise to see one strong review and then another and another for this agreeably warped domestic comedy — beginning last March following the movie’s launch at several film festivals in 2009.

I knew word-of-mouth from “regular folks” had taken over by early summer when an acquaintance of mine who doesn’t read reviews — and lives in a conservative city where specialized exhibition isn’t exactly rampant — asked about the film and whether she should trek to the one screen that was showing it. But up to that point, I think some thanks should go to either what remains of the alarmingly dwindled number of newspaper/magazine critics or their wind-is-with-them Internet kin. If some Kenesaw Mountain Landis brand of a country judge had to listen to some fool lawyer assert otherwise, you’d immediately see part of a broken gavel go flying across the room and an irritated shout of “Next case!” Theatrical films distributed by DVD companies (here, it’s Anchor Bay) don’t get rolling by themselves.

Island’s screenplay is an original by director Raymond De Felitta, who had previous experience with the family genre: 2000’s Two Family House (which he wrote and directed) and 2005’s The Thing About My Folks (which he directed). It’s an original in both senses — that is, a non-adaptation and a script with a mind definitely of its own — but in another way, it has a few roots in old-style sitcoms, even if its plot-central family goes in directions that “Father Knows Best” or “My Three Sons” would never go. For one thing, no one in them — even if “Sons” had a daughter — would ever be working as a pole dancer.

This is the Rizzo daughter’s undivulgable no-no, but then, everyone here (in the title Bronx seaport) has one in a clan where even an inability to stop smoking is concealed. Patriarch Vince (Garcia), a corrections officer at a nearby pokey, even has two secrets: the new prisoner he suspects might be his son from a long ago relationship — and the fact that he is taking acting classes to fulfill a longtime secret aspiration. Wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) has one, too, or is at least fighting it off: After their rocky start, she becomes attracted to this young con after Vince has offers him a home — though this is in part because she suspects her husband’s concealed nights studying acting are being devoted to something (make that someone) else. The family’s adolescent son has a concealed yen for obese women and regularly peruses a website devoted to the same — and wouldn’t you know the chief object of his affection lives right in the neighborhood. And, of course, there’s the daughters’ pole-dancing job, which no one suspects because she’s supposed to be in college.

Even the woman Vince meets in class (Emily Mortimer) turns out to have a double life, though her melancholy backstory is in contrast to the raucous turmoil that faces the Rizzos just about everywhere they turn. Vince can’t even study his lines for class without looking over his shoulder; he has to sneak into the bathroom like a teenager trying to masturbate (though the way his marriage is going, maybe he does that, too). There’s nothing fancy about this movie — on the contrary — but it has an assured tone that juggles comedy and pain against the implied advice it gives that people who live with each other just might be better off if they just talked to each other at least once in a while.

All of the performances are spot on, including Alan Arkin’s in a small role as an acting teacher with a strong suspicion that Marlon Brando’s protracted pauses when delivering dialogue ended up ruining the form. But Garcia’s own acting gem is one of rooting interest fulfilled because it (like the entire project) was so unexpected. Though he’s been in some high-profile movies (Black Rain, The Godfather: Part III), it’s likely that this almost perfectly measured and beguilingly unpretentious little comedy will probably end up giving him his career role.

One of the bonuses on the disc reunites the cast for a dinner table sit-around with real food, a kind of communal affair very much in keeping with the camaraderie it takes to get a labor of love like this made, to say nothing of breaking out of the pack. Although, the concept of adventurous moviegoing has so crumbled in the 33 years since Star Wars that $6.6 million now qualifies as a breakout.

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