I must admit to going into City Island with less than high expectations about the film which was lain out in front of me, ready to spool and sprocket its way through the sputtering projector and onto the big white screen which also was lain out in front of me. I must also admit to being quite unexpectedly satisfied once said film went through that aforementioned projection system and the house lights made their way back on. Quite satisfied indeed.
Being the story of a blue collar Italian-American family living in the Bronx (like a slice of small town America hidden away in a thriving metropolis, City Island is a small fishing community northeast of Manhattan and northwest of Long Island), and the secrets and lies they keep from each other and tell each other, Raymond De Felitta's surprisingly resonating little film caught this cynic of a critic a bit off guard. Expecting something of the ilk of typical Sundance dreck, with its Little Miss Sunshiny cutesiness, but instead getting something like a working class Woody Allen. Granted, a middle-of-the-road Woody Allen, but a Woody Allen nonetheless, with all the foibles and fetishes so associated with Allen's comedic oeuvre.
Yet for all the talk of the Woodman - and the inherent screenwriting prowess that goes with such talk (even when one is merely speaking of something Allenesque) - City Island is an actor's picture, lock, stock and about a dozen smoking hot barrels. Led by Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies as the insufferable, suffering couple at the heart of the film, the cast (which also includes Emily Mortimer, Steven Straight and Alan Arkin in what basically amounts to a glorified cameo) are given the meatiest of steaks and chops to sink their thespianic canines into, turning the film into an actor's wettest and dreamiest of a wet dream of a movie, this side of the perennial Woody Allen project-to-be-named-later wet dream of a movie alluded to above.
Never having been much of a fan of either Garcia or Margulies (I could pretty much take 'em or leave 'em) both are wonderful in their roles - he as a prison guard (er, I mean a corrections officer) who yearns to become an actor, she a love lost spouse willing to take love where she can get it - and both have their moments to shine. Garcia is particularly hilarious when, while auditioning for a Scorsese picture (while his wife thinks he is playing poker, or possibly having an affair), he does his lines in his best (and possibly worst) Brando impression for the casting agent. Yet, no matter how good Andy Garcia is (and he is the best he has ever been IMHO), Julianna Magulies steals the show out from under everyone - and looks damn good doing it too (he says in his best Tex Avery eye-popping wolf call manner).
Sure, the film may be rather predictable at times (who doesn't see each and every eventual plot turn coming around each bend!?) and has moments that dip precariously close to that aforementioned Little Miss Sunshiny dreck, but with two such powerhouse performances (especially from two actors I would have never expected such from!) and its ironically honest portrayal of family life (no matter how lovingly twisted it may be), City Island is quite the unexpectedly satisfying little film. Quite unexpected indeed. [05/24/10]