Monday, March 29, 2010
“The script is very cleverly put together with a lot of humanity and comedic situations that are all rooted in a sense of truth,” said Andy Garcia about City Island in a Boston Herald interview.
Well, just because he’s got talent as an actor doesn’t mean he’s any good at judging scripts.
City Island is the most contrived, sit com-y movie I’ve seen in a long time, and the closest thing to an old-fashioned Movie of the Week since Extraordinary Measures. (Are the movies in theaters getting more middle-of-the road and formulaic as the movies on TV get less so?) That’s not to say I hated it. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it, though I would have liked it better if it hadn’t tried so hard to win my love. I just didn’t respect it in the morning.
A few of the set pieces are funny – a rant by Alan Arkin as an irascible acting coach may be worth the price of admission if you’re an Arkin fan, and Garcia does a Brando impression that made me laugh, though that was probably largely because it was a surprise in a movie full of tediously telegraphed comings and goings.
City Island plays like a series of scenes from the acting class Garcia’s character, Vince Rizzo, sneaks off to. A prison guard (or corrections officer, as he keeps telling people) embarrassed by his own yen for acting, Vince tells his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) that he’s playing poker whenever he heads off to class. That’s just one of this overstuffed movie’s many secrets, since its capital-T Theme is how everyone in the family is hiding at least one big secret from everyone else.
Unfortunately, just about all we get to know about each character is his or her secret life, so the secrets can get old after a while – especially Vince’s teenage son’s obsession with an obese neighbor. That seems sexual at first but then goes oddly cozy, running out of steam way before we see the last of it. An extended tangent about Vince and his acting partner, Molly (Emily Mortimer, who needs to stop working the wounded-doe act so hard) also goes on too long. In fact, that whole character felt superfluous to me, though I guess she’s supposed to be the catalyst who gets everyone else to spill their secrets.
But how many catalysts does one movie need, and wasn’t that what Tony Nardello (Steven Strait) was there for? Well, that and taking off his shirt so we can bask in the golden hills and valleys of his improbably buff torso.
See, Tony is Vince’s son, only Vince walked out Tony’s mom before the boy was born and never looked back, so they’ve never met and Tony doesn’t know Vince is his father. But Tony shows up one day in Vince’s jail, so Vince takes him home to serve out the rest of his sentence in his custody. Coincidences like that are much of what passes for plot in this manic movie. Wacky encounters and shouting matches are most of the rest of it, giving City Island the feel of a Feydeau farce that wants to be a serious family drama.
Margulies straddles the movie’s split personality gracefully, making Joyce sympathetic and too tough to be laughable, though we chortle affectionately at her easily wounded pride. Strait maintains his dignity too, making Tony an observant man with unfathomed depths. But most of the actors – including Garcia’s daughter, Dominik García-Lorido, who plays his daughter in the movie – either overplay their parts or get drowned out by all the noise.
There’s plenty of potential in the notion of a palooka from the Bronx who’s secretly an artist—Woody Allen and Chazz Palmintieri made it sing in Bullets Over Broadway—but Garcia has too much patrician and too little comedian in his DNA to put it over. Straining visibly to establish blue-collar cred, he gets upstaged by his own accent when he says things like “A-oh! A-oh!” or “friendth.”
That’s supposed to be a Bronx accent, in case you were wondering. The island of the title, described as “a fishing village in the Bronx,” is one of the best things about the movie, nicely used as a setting if a tad overworked as a metaphor. It’s a treat to spend time in a photogenic part of New York that you rarely see on film – though the filmmakers revert to cliché when they get to Manhattan, sending Vince and Molly to the self-consciously fabulous Empire Diner for a bite to eat. They also put the two on the Roosevelt Island tram and boardwalk, then in a beautiful high-end restaurant, for some outrageously romantic-looking evenings, though the two aren’t falling in love.
Or are we supposed to think they are?
A-oh, a-oh! I’m supposed ta cay-uh?