Monday, June 14, 2010

City Island

Based on its lackluster trailer and mediocre reviews, I hadn’t the slightest interest in seeing City Island. But then two things happened. First, a rising young Hollywood actress told me the movie was great, then I did a little research and discovered Emily Mortimer was in the film. Sold.

Andy Garcia, who may very well be the most underrated actor of his generation, delivers yet another solid performance as Vince Rizzo, a native of the tiny Bronx island, City Island. Vince spends his days as a prisoner guard – err Corrections Officer – but moonlights as a wanna-be actor in New York.

Given that each meal in the Rizzo household turns into an raging screaming match, it’s pretty clear that Vince can’t muster up the courage to tell his spitfire wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies, deeply sexy in heavy eyeliner) that he has aspirations of being the next Brando.

As the film evolves, we’re presented with a family surrounded by secrets, unable to communicate with each other on almost every level. Joyce answers phones for a living, but eyes the Rizzo’s new houseguest with the lust of a desperate housewife. Their son is an apparent genius, but constantly skips school in order to feed his obsession with obese woman. Their daughter is kicked off her college scholarship for smoking a little weed, so she strips to make a living. Vince’s new prisoner turns out to be his long lost son, so he reprimands him into his custody without telling anyone his real motives.

The plot is a bit flimsy, but here’s what’s interesting: rarely do the characters take matters seriously, so we don’t either. City Island, I think, wants to be a comedy, but at times, strives to hit some real emotional depth. Enter Ms. Mortimer.

With her deeply poignant performance in City Island, Emily Mortimer proves to me, yet again, that she is the most underrated actress working in movies. (For examples, please see Match Point, Lars and the Real Girl, Transsiberian, Redbelt and Shutter Island.) She has a scene in City Island, in which she and Garcia have a candid conversation on a dock, that is worth the price of admission alone. Watch her face as she shares her most personal secret. Listen to the pitch of her voice. That, my friends, is acting.

The climax of City Island is an over-the-top, make-it-or-break-it romp. The scene, which starts with far too much slapstick brevity, and ends with a sincere amount of emotional candor, loses us slightly in its tonal shifts as the Rizzo's air out every last bit of their dirty laundry in the middle of the street. But if you’re willing to overlook the film’s faults, you’ll find some honest emotion, hidden slightly underneath the film’s joking exterior. What happens to some of these characters is hardly believable, but we’re glad things turn out the way they do. Which is another way of saying, we actually care. B

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