All in the family

Pub date March 30, 2010
SectionFilm Review

FILM The Rizzo family of City Island, N.Y. — a tiny atoll associated historically with fishing and jurisdictionally with the Bronx — have reached a state where their primary interactions consist of sniping, yelling, and storming out of rooms. These storm clouds operate as cover for the secrets they’re all busy keeping from one another.

Correctional officer Vince (Andy Garcia) pretends he’s got frequent poker nights so he can skulk off to his true shameful indulgence: a Manhattan acting class. Naturally, perpetually fuming spouse Joyce (Julianna Margulies) assumes he’s having an affair. Daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) is back home from “school” on “spring break,” quote marks required because in fact she’s dropped out to work at a strip joint nearby, an endeavor hinted at by her newly extra-perky breasts. The world class-sarcasms of teenager Vinnie (Ezra Miller) deflect attention from his own hidden life as an aspiring chubby chaser crushing on a plus-sized schoolmate and transfixed by the huge neighbor (Carrie Baker Reynolds) who’s a live webcam star among fanciers of BBW (Big Beautiful Women).

All this (plus everyone’s sneaky cigarette habit) is nothing, however, compared to Vince’s really big secret: he conceived and abandoned a “love child” before marrying, and said guilty issue has just turned up as a 24-year-old car thief on his cell block. Tony (Steven Strait) is eligible for provisional parole, but since his mother (fondly recalled as “a drunk and a whore”) is deceased, he has no family to take him in.

Ergo, Vince brings him home, explaining to no one (Tony included) their wee biological link. But as dad spends increasing time “playing poker” — i.e. hanging out with fellow would-be thespian Molly (Emily Mortimer) and even scoring a Scorcese audition — vengefully-minded mom has time to notice that frequently shirtless new handyman Tony has a Body of Death. Their flirtation includes her sympathetic comment, “Being in prison and not being able to smoke? That’s like being in jail!”

City Island advance-screened last week a couple nights after Hot Tub Time Machine. While it will be lucky to make a small fraction of Hot Tub‘s multiplex dough, it offers cheering, contrasting evidence that not all American live-action movie comedy outside the Judd Apatow realm is by and for imbeciles. Writer-director Raymond De Felitta made a couple other features in the last 15 years, none widely seen; if this latest is typical, we need more of him, more often.

Perfectly cast (who knew Andy Garcia could be funny?), City Island is farcical without being cartoonish, howl-inducing without lowering your brain-cell count. It’s arguably a better, less self-conscious slice of dysfunctional family absurdism than Little Miss Sunshine (2006) — complete with an Alan Arkin more inspired in his one big scene here than in all of that film’s Oscar-winning performance.

CITY ISLAND opens Fri/2 in San Francisco.