City Island

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 23, 2010

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Opens Fri., March 26

Like certain films by provacateurs Todd Solondz (Happiness), François Ozon (Sitcom) and Toshiaki Toyoda (Hanging Garden), the latest from Raymond De Felitta (of The Thing About My Folks ) concerns a family corroded by secrets. Unlike those films, City Island netted the Audience Award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. That trophy, as with all festivals, tends to go only to a certain kind of film, namely harmless crowd pleasers. City Island is definitely that kind of film, but make no mistake: Deep underneath this over-stuffed but relentlessly light farce lies fucked-up, near-Bergman-esque turmoil, and several of the characters would, in real life, beg for involuntary commitment.

First and foremost is man of the house, Vince (Andy Garcia), whose secrets are twofold. When he says he's playing poker, he’s really taking acting lessons and auditioning for the new "Scorsese-De Niro picture." (Is this a period piece?) Will his wife and kids really be so horrified when his yen for Brando tumbles from the closet? Moreover, why not tell everyone the young stud (Steven Strait) he’s brought home for a spell is a prisoner out on furlough, and his illegitimate son, of which even Strait is unaware?

The cynical (and correct) answer is because De Felitta has some holes to plug in his would-be Feydeau script. Sure enough, both of Vince’s secrets drive wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies, working the Italian stereotype the hardest) to attempted infidelity with the closest hunk of beef, which turns out to be her husband’s other son. Gross! Elsewhere, college-age daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is a stripper and son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller, a long way from the art indie Afterschool ) scours the Web not for porn but for culinary fatties.

Overdosing on mistaken assumptions and quirk, City Island is ultimately mostly harmless, in part because it’s anchored by Garcia, a typically cold and humorless screen presence whose touching attempts to be light nicely mirror his character’s dreams of actorly success. Also, ultimately, this utterly forgettable piffle, a total waste of time and cognitive skills that never deserved to slip off the festival circuit, is in many ways superior art to any of the three films mentioned earlier—empty, witless provocations that have as much insight into familial discord as this fool thing.

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