Remember how Little Miss Sunshine seemed to come out of nowhere and go onto such success that it won Oscars? Remember when an indie film called My Big Fat Greek Wedding popped on the scene, won over audiences and grossed $368 million worldwide? What do you think could happen to a movie that is a little bit of both? City Island is the brain child from writer/director Raymond De Felitta and seems to be a passion project for star Andy Garcia (Godfather III, The Untouchables), who is also one of the Producer, and it just might follow the same path. The film is about an Italian family living on City Island, which is a small fishing village right off the coast of The Bronx. They'll make sure you know the history of the town by the end of the film...believe me. The film is about a family that has a lot of secrets; some are pretty serious and some are pretty funny. Julianna Margulies (The Sopranos, ER) plays Garcia's wife and seems to have a grip on the family until Garcia brings someone home to meet them and that's when we see the secrets start to unfold. The film is very funny and also very touching. What starts off as a slow build to learn who these characters are and what secrets they hide from each other seems a little daunting and plodding at first; but once the the film picks up its momentum, it really gets good. Garcia turns out one of his best performances I've ever seen. Because the movie is so low budget, I'm guessing they released it so early so that it has time to develop a following and hit a wide release by late summer in hopes that perhaps The Academy will remember it. I certainly hope that happens because I think certain aspects of the film are good enough to warrant such Oscar consideration. What I enjoyed the most about the movie is how well the characters displayed the characteristics of a typical urban Italian family. Trust me, the dinner scenes hit a little too close to home. But unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there are no cultural traditions or stereotypes being rammed down your throat. In fact, outside of a last name of "Rizzo" and the look and sound of the family, they don't even make it clear that they are Italian. That just might be me projecting that. What's great about that though is that it can be enjoyed by anyone who happens to come from a loud, passionate family that wears their emotions on their sleeves. It might be sloppy writing at times to have resolution boil over and have the acceptance of the conflict be so immediate, but as an Italian, I'm telling you that that's how it happens. We get very upset or angry or emotional over something, we lash out about it and then we forgive and calm down right away. There are elements of the movie that I didn't get and seemed forced. The son's secret, for instance, seems zany enough to be from a Coen Brothers' movie and really goes nowhere. It was almost as if they gave him a secret just so he would have something to do in the movie. Although he's played wonderfully by newcomer, Ezra Miller, the part was totally unneeded. City Island stumbles occasionally and isn't Best Picture quality, but any movie that can make me cry and make me laugh out loud within a 15 second window and never slide into the cheesy column of cinema is note-worthy in my book. At the very least, the film is worth seeing for Andy Garcia, who turns out one of the best performances in his career.
City Island (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B+ Click below to hear my interview with star of City Island, Andy GarciaDownload