You could be forgiven for thinking that City Island is set in New England, or even a quaint coastal village in Britain, but it is, in fact, a little known fishing town in The Big Apple. Director Raymond De Felitta affords us a glimpse into the lives of a family of ‘clam diggers’ (those who were born and bred on City Island) and grants us the opportunity to become ‘mussel suckers’ (those who were born elsewhere).
Prison guard – sorry, corrections officer – Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is the film’s focus and narrator. He longs to become an actor, a dream he is so afraid to share he happily let’s his fiery wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) believe his weekly poker games are a cover for an affair, rather than the drama classes he’s actually been attending.
Teenage son Vinnie, Jr. (Ezra Miller) is an underachieving high-school student with an unhealthy obsession for BBW (Big Beautiful Women) and a rather odd desire to feed them. Daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), unbeknownst to her family, is a stripper, and she is the only family member not to conceal a nicotine addiction.
This is a film about secrets, secrets and more secrets. Well, kind of. Given that all the revelations and plot twists are revealed within the first 20 minutes, it’s probably more appropriate to describe City Island as a film about the inevitability of coming unstuck by a lie. The film is not so much concerned with the revelations of the family’s respective secrets, but the comical misinterpretations and misunderstandings produced by that secrecy.
City Island, the place, is beautifully captured: an urban oasis, a charming fishing village in the Bronx. The performances are engaging, and the actors do well to anchor in reality a rather surreal and over the top finale.
Alan Arkin’s presence in a movie seems to instantly elevate its comic potential. He’s like a comforter blanket…albeit a slightly rough around the edges and vulgar one, the sort of comforter that would compel you to “f*** a lotta women, kid”. His brief appearance as Vince’s drama coach is a delight. Vinnie, Jr. is the kind of precocious, quick-witted teenager that has become a cornerstone of the indie family drama, think Ellen Page in Juno or Jesse Eisenberg in The Squid and the Whale.
City Island is warm and fun, with touches of organic humour. If there is a message in the film, it is probably that old biblical chestnut, “The truth will set you free.” Or rather, if it doesn’t set you free, it certainly makes life less complicated. Were City Island a colour, it would probably be beige. Though enjoyable and not without positives (not least a subtle and human performance from Garcia), it is a tad bland and contrived, and easily forgotten.