Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Secrets and Lies: “City Island”


City Island is an obscure part of the Bronx known fondly as a seaside village full of quaint old houses occupied by quaint old families. The clam-diggers, as those born and raised on the island are called, tend to be workaday folks who speak loudly and plainly, with strong New Yawk accents. They don’t, though, always tell the truth.

 Case in point: the Rizzo family, featured in a well-crafted 2009 indie chockful of flawed but fascinating people. Vince (Andy Garcia) is a prison guard who tells his wife and kids he’s off to a weekly poker game when he’s really in Manhattan taking acting classes. His wife Joyce (Juliana Margulies) is restless and looking for love. Daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Londo) has not told the folks at home that she’s dropped out of college and taken up a job that’s perhaps not exactly savory. Teen son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has a secret kink that involves lusting after very fat women on the Internet. Everyone is sneaking cigarettes while pretending they don’t smoke.  And there’s one more secret, involving a handsome young prisoner, that threatens to tear the family apart . . . but then helps it pull itself back together.

 In this cleverly plotted dramedy, Vince’s acting coach (Alan Arkin) becomes a catalyst for all the untruths to be brought into the light of day. Arkin’s pontificating Michael Malakov dreams up an exercise in which pairs of would-be actors are required to tell one another their deepest, darkest secrets. Vince is paired with Molly (Emily Mortimer), a lively young Brit (or is she?) who encourages his dreams and listens to his long-concealed guilt about abandoning a baby son. You can guess where he finds that son, now grown.

 While dealing with that discovery, Vince is also learning to own up to his passion for following in the footsteps of his personal hero, Marlon Brando. With Molly’s encouragement, he shows up at an audition “cattle call” for a bit part in a Martin Scorsese flick. (Arkin/ Malakov is also there, pathetically awaiting his own turn to impress the big boys.) At the audition, Vince is as green as they come, but his own life experience, coupled with the canny use of an acting tip he got in an unexpected place, wins him a tiny but dramatic role in Scorsese’s latest urban crime saga. This becomes a source of pride to a family that could really use a break.

I don’t know the work of Raymond De Felitta, who both wrote and directed this little gem. Apparently he’s an actor/writer/director/producer, and a jazz pianist on the side. For  his work he’s won big awards at small festivals, and his AFI thesis film, Bronx Cheers, nabbed an Oscar nomination for best live action short in 1991. More recently, City Island earned him the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and in 2016  he was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for helming a limited TV series, Madoff.  So he’s a working director, and from the glimpse we get of him on the City Island DVD, schmoozing with the film’s actors over pasta and potatoes, he’s an amiable guy, one with a great affection for the ethnic mishmash that is New York.

He's also, from what I’ve read, a devoted family man. That fact fits the story of City Island, in which almost irreparable harms can be overcome by family solidarity and family love. Kudos to all involved, and especially to Andy Garcia, who believed in this project to the extent of becoming its producer. We need more like this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment