DVD Review: “City Island” an Overlooked Indie Comedy

"City Island" stars Andy Garcia as Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer and patriarch of a Bronx family. All the Rizzo's tie themselves in knots keeping secrets from each, and the tension reaches untenable heights with the arrival of someone who is, unbeknownst to most of them, a fellow family member.

Garcia brings an uncommon -- for him -- likability to his turn as Vince Rizzo, who in addition to working as prison guard, secretly aspires to be an actor. Garcia's been doing good work for two decades, but he's never really someone you want to root for. Yet his Vince is a believable, likable blue-collar mope chasing a dream.

Garcia and Julianna Margulies do a nice job of striking a balance in their relationship as husband and wife. Yes, they yell at each and there's plenty of anger, but they manage to not let the characters fall into the tired trapped of marital combatants. They still love each other and fight for their marriage.  As good as Margulies is, her Joyce Rizzo draws the short straw in this film. She alone has no real interior life, her one big secret being a covert cigarette habit. It's too bad, as she feels a bit wasted in this film.

There are a pair of secondary plot lines that ultimately disappoint, but for very different reasons. The deep dark secret that Emily Mortimer's Molly carries with her comes off as way beyond the scope of her character's place in the film -- it's too deep and to dark. Then there's Ezra Miller as Vince Jr., who in addition to some run-of-the-mill teenage vices, indulges in a fetish involving overweight women. It's a bizarre and fascinating predilection that is approached with a humor and sincerity instead of devolving into voyeurism.

If the film has one glaring weakness, it's the score by Jan Kaczmarek, or more specifically, its deployment. It's played too often, at too high a volume and sounds too much like the theme from "The Godfather." The similarity is no doubt intentional, and would've been appropriate at certain moments. Sadly, it's all over the film.

The end very nearly falls apart as writer-director Ray De Felitta scrambles to bring all his characters together for the inevitable climactic scene. While much of the mounting drama requires Vince to be a bit dense, the cast does a nice job of keeping the whole thing from turning into a mess.

After winning the Audience Award at last year's Tribeca FIlm Festival, it took "City Island" nearly a year to get released, and once it arrived, it had trouble finding an audience. It's easy to see why -- no big-name star, no special effects, no hook -- which is a shame. Fortunately, "City Island" is exactly the kind of film -- a small, intimate comedy -- that stands up perfectly well to home viewing. And like any good indie, it's got a hilarious cameo from Alan Arkin.

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