Warning! Some spoilers ahead, though I try to be gentle!
And once again, the scene is set: Josh. Library DVD rental. Excitement on his part, ignorance on mine. This night’s feature: “City Island.”
From good old Wikipedia:
Living on City Island, in the Bronx, Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), a prison guard, is the father of a dysfunctional family whose members all have secrets. Vince discovers that his secret illegitimate son is now the 24-year-old prison inmate Tony Nardella (Steven Strait) who is being held in the same prison where he works. Without revealing this truth to his family, Vince consequently gets Tony out of prison and employs him as hired help at his own home in order to become closer with his unknowing son. Vince has also been secretly taking acting lessons, taught by Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin), and begins to form a platonic bond with Molly (Emily Mortimer), an aspiring actress.
The DVD said it was an “offbeat” comedy, or some other adjective. Given said adjective + the indie-ness of the movie, I was prepared to feel like Old Christine when she hosts her pot party with Wanda Sykes: “Ooh, I got a DVD of “The Royal Tenenbaums. Everybody thought this was so funny. I didn’t get it.”
No offense to “Royal Tenenbaums,” which I liked, but basically I was prepared for a very depressing hour and a half. If a comedy is “offbeat,” often what that means is I will totally appreciate the humor, once the dour experience is over.
Not with this movie. It had my heart at hello! So here is my list of:
5 Reasons to Watch “City Island!”
1) The Cast
As y’all know if you’ve read enough of my blogs, I’m a frustrated casting director at heart. So I’m psyched when I see a movie like “City Island,” because every actor in it is IMO, wonderfully cast. Julianna Margulies has not only never looked more gorgeous, but shifts seamlessly from comedy to drama, from grating to sympathetic, in a way I haven’t seen since Edie Falco’s Carmella. Dominik Garcia-Lorido shines as the daughter of Garcia and Margulies, playing a good girl who’s always been an A-student, but got suspended from school and has turned to stripping in order to go back next semester. Steven Strait is awesomely complex as the aforementioned secret son/jailbird, that could have been played just fine by a way lesser beefcake. Ezra Miller plays a teenage boy like no other I’ve seen in movies, or even “Degrassi.” More on that below.
And Emily Mortimer? I finally get and appreciate her as an actress. I think I’ve just not seen enough of her movies, because I had no idea how absolutely great she is. It’s hard to explain, but she’s…flexible. Like an accomplished gymnast or dancer, only she does it with acting.
Andy Garcia is simply fantastic. I’ve loved him since “When a Man Loves a Woman,” because back in the early ‘90s when everyone was tough, and Garcia was still all “Godfather”-y, dude could cry. In “City Island,” he gives what I’d consider his best performance to date. At least my favorite. He is raw, vulnerable, and really owns being a “prison guard,” when all he wants is to be called a “correctional officer”…while all the while, exhibiting that what he really wants to be called, wants to be – is an actor.
And Alan Arkin. OMG, Alan Arkin. How do I love thee; let me count the ways. Or just say that thanks again to Josh and his Netflix, just the night before, I got to rewatch one of my most beloved movies of all time, “Indian Summer.” More on that another time. But Alan Arkin is the man you want in your movie, should you seek a wise soul, a presence, a friend. If you need someone to step seamlessly into the cast of “Game of Thrones,” in any capacity? See if Alan Arkin’s willing to participate. In “City Island,” he actually has a very small role. I was sad, despite the awesomeness of the movie. Until he reappears, and I won’t spoil it for you, but he does such great work, in such a short time. If Alan Arkin were Judi Dench, he’d have the 2009 Oscar for this role!
2) The Pacing
From the first scene of “City Island,” I was into it. And that’s like, all I ever truly want, deep down, from a book or movie. Television shows, we’ve got time. But if I’m going to curl up with a 260-pager, or 120-minutes-or-less of a movie? I do very much enjoy getting hooked from the jump. “City Island” hooked me, and for the remainder of the movie, I was never once even remotely bored or disengaged.
First scene grabbed me, and the second provided LOLs galore! Ezra Miller as Andy Garcia’s Junior really stole the show, during the early scenes of “City Island.” I’m usually going to enjoy whatever smartass life or Hollywood throws in my direction, and Miller’s Vinnie is no exception. Only, Vinnie is kind of an extra-special smartass — unabashed in his delivery, and given great writing to work with.
And everyone gets to be funny, at some point, in this movie. I must hand it to Julianna and Andy. They argue viciously, but/therefore, somehow make their fights hilarious, even while they are troubling.
I’m not saying that it’s healthy to want to feed a woman a lot of food, or to be the woman exhilarated by the concept. But I will say that I didn’t even know this was a thing until watching “City Island,” and I feel more knowledgeable for it. Ezra Miller’s Vinnie plays the wannabe feeder to a woman who does eating-porn, as well as a girl who is beautiful, sweet, and mistakes Vinnie’s interest in her eating habits for his making fun of her extra weight, when it couldn’t be more the opposite! The three of them develop a bizarrely endearing relationship, and provide a hilarious Greek chorus to the drama that unfolds at the end of the movie. “The Ending” would be a numeric entry unto itself, but too many spoilers would have to be given!
And regarding this bullet point, I found it extremely interesting that this movie has no nudity, IIRC. It has a lot of sexuality, and there are strip club scenes. Garcia-Lorido shows the audience that she not only has a very impressive body, but mad skillz to boot, as she flips upside down the pole…but all the dancers always have bikini tops on. So while the movie exhibits the ways in which young women sell what they’ve got for myriad reasons, it never takes part in said exploitation. It is an interesting choice that I appreciate.
5) Great Movie for Actors
There’s a line in “City Island” about God blessing us when we need it the most. It kind of punched me in the face, in a good way, on a day when I’d felt particularly desperate about money, creativity, and life in general. The movie wasn’t preachy; it was just hopeful and IMO honest. And the way that it portrayed struggling NYC actors, and by extension artists in general, was brilliant. My favorite part in the entire movie that didn’t involve dialogue was when Andy Garcia moved to the back of the very-very-very-long actor’s cattle call. And while I could go into greater detail, I will leave it at that. Because I think you should see it for yourselves 🙂