There is a type of comedy that has always been present in films but of late seem to used a lot more. That subject is the dysfunctional family and it is a remarkably deep and resourceful well for the film maker. Basically every family is dysfunctional to some degree or another. In fact if a family it too prefect they are considered an aberration as seen in the Sci-fi horror classic ĎThe Stepford Wivesí. This is a large part of why this genre has become so popular. It seems that odd ball family members are no longer a secret kept in the in basement. As a society we have become so accepting and politically correct that the only way to relish in our differences is to hold them up to ridicule and have a few laughs. You might think that with such a universal theme as this it would be easy to come up with a movie on the subject but the fact is as with most genres there are far more duds than hits. Thankfully, one of the latest to pass my way was a solid piece of entertainment that celebrates the quirks and foibles that make our lives interesting. One movie that has put the Ďfuní in dysfunction is ĎCity Islandí. It proves you can depict a family with more than a fee eccentrics numbered among their ranks and still have to descend into puerile or hurtful jokes. This film is a near perfect blend of ethnic family humor with just the right amount of drama for pacing and to keep maters realistic. The film has that unmistakable New York City flavor that is always a major point in favor of a film. It seems like it has been much too long a time since I was able to sit and enjoy a film like I have with this one. There is no heavy message to covey but then again the cast and crew didnít just lose control to make some piece of meaningless fluff. This is a movie that all things considered fun to watch.
The film was written and directed by Raymond De Felitta and I think one major reason this film works out so well he is has been building it over the years with similar movies to sharpen the humor and hone the dramatic element to a poignancy that form a firm scaffold to the story. In some ways itís difficult to pin point just what is so likable about this film. One thing is certain a film such as this is dependent of the believability of the characters and who accessible they are made to the audience. If the viewers are not affording an opportunity to understand the characters then there is little that can be salvaged from the flick. In this movie I could tell instantly that Mr. De Felitta came from an Italian family from New York City. The family presented here, Rizzos are completely real; expertly drawn with depth of personality and dimension that gives the feel of fully formed human beings. I quickly came to realize that I grew up with families just like this spending many an evening with then listening to the same harebrain schemes, dreams and fears hopes projected through these characters. I didnít just accept them as real I knew them. There was a sense of being back someplace that was oddly familiar even through it probably should have made me uncomfortable. That was the way things were back in the old neighborhood. Most families had a bunch of kids and staying over for dinner was common. If you were sitting at the family dining room table you heard the same meal time discussions and arguments that took place there any other night of the week. That feeling of looking in at these family moments was perfectly recreated in this film.
Patriarch Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) finically supports his family with his job as a correction officer but his secret passion is to be an actor. He hides this fact from everyone, most importantly his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies). She is a receptionist at a law firm and much too pragmatic to understand the depth of her husbandís yearning. Vince has taken to studying lines in the bathroom and pulling himself through tiny roof top windows to keep this secret secure. In order to cover the time needed for acting classes he has invented a poker game with friends. Joyce is very upset when he chooses that over dinner with their daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who is home from college on spring break. As it turns out in a delightful comedy of errors, misunderstanding and shame his is one of the smallest secrets in the family. Adding a little touch of realism here, Dominik Garcia-Lorido is the real life daughter of Andy Garcia. It turns out that Vivian isnít attending college; she dropped out and is now working as a stripper. Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has a fetish for overweight women which are difficult since his invitations to go and get donuts are usually misconstrued as an insulting fat joke. His only outlet is watching a pornographic web site featuring their 300 pound neighbor. This carefully constructed framework of lies and deceit begins to collapse when the illegitimate son, Tony Nardella (Steven Strait), he had with the then thing neighbor. Felling bad that had someone vouched for the young man he would have gotten a much more lenient sentence, he offers Tony a job doing chores. Joyce, not having been intimate for awhile with her husband starts to fantasize about Tony not knowing he is her step-son. Topping it off Vince begins to have feelings for a young woman in his acting class, Molly (Emily Mortimer).
The setting here is ideal for this kind of film. In order to understand the characters and appreciate their motivations you have to know their environment. The very first scenes in this film define the living conditions of City Island. It is a little world on its own separated from the rest of the Bronx by highway. Anachronistically it is a small fishing village a slight distance from the hustling metropolis of Manhattan but looking more as if it was plucked from a Melville novel. As Vince informs the audience two kinds of people live there; Clam Diggers and Muscle Suckers. The latter moved their recently, that is less than one generation. The Clam Diggers, like Vince where, they live in the same house their families have resided in for two or three generations. This close knit community is juxtaposed against a family of strangers. This is a breath of fresh air in entertainment.