For as vast a city as New York is, most people are nonetheless somewhat familiar with its various boroughs and neighboring cities, but still, City Island, a small fishing/seaport community in the Bronx is rarely mentioned within the context of New York. Enter writer-director Raymond De Felitta to remedy such pervasive anonymity. City Island is an atypical tale of family dysfunction and secrets, including a patriarch (Andy Garcia) who aspires to be the next Marlon Brando, a matriarch who lusts after the convicted felon her husband brings home (he is a prison guard, or corrections officer as he likes to distinguish) with the hidden motive that the parolee is his son, a daughter who strips at a local dive to hide the fact that she got kicked out of school, and a son who has a fetish for feeding extremely large women. So yeah, family wise, Father of the Bride it is not.
Andy Garcia as Vince Rizzo commences the film with "You asked me about my secret, my most personal secret, my secret of all secrets. Like most people, I guess I've got a few." One of those secrets is taking an acting class in the city, where he meets a somewhat over the hill British actress who has yet to catch her big break. This also furnishes Alan Arkin with a memorable role as their acting teacher, Michael, a man who has clearly been at the acting game for quite some time and who gives an impassioned diatribe about the pointlessness of pauses in acting dialogue, specifically singling out Marlon Brando, incidentally Vince's inspiration for wanting to pursue this career in the first place.
Michael throws Molly (Emily Mortimer) and Vince together in an acting exercise that involves telling each other their most personal secret. After they are given their assignment, the two strangers head over to Empire Diner (which I highly recommend going to if you happen to be in the vicinity of New York) to confess. Only Vince is the one who does most of the confessing, shocked by the recent discovery that the son he left behind twenty-four years ago, Tony Nardella (Steven Strait), has wound up in the very prison where he works. Molly counsels him on the importance of telling his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), as a means to reconnect with her. But, in the meantime, she stays mum about her own secret.
Vince partially takes Molly's advice and brings Tony into his home as a courtesy to the memory of Tony's mother, who Tony sums up as a "drunk whore." All the while Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), possibly the most demented of the family, lusts after his overweight neighbor, joining her online fetish group to gain a twenty-four hour glimpse into her kitchen while she cooks, eats, and turns a profit. Vince Jr.'s sister, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, who looks a bit like a poor man's Jamie Lynn Sigler), also brings a whole bag of issues home with her on "spring break," though for her it's just a week she is forced to give up a panty full of bills in order to keep up the ruse that she is still in college.
The potential for drama in this hotbed of subterfuge, hidden truths, and fear of disapproval is what makes City Island the latest example of what a film about a family in turmoil should look like. And, apart from the extreme suspension of disbelief that goes with accepting the idea that Vince miraculously lands a part in a Martin Scorsese movie and the opening titles that look like they were made using iMovie, this film sets a new standard for the tragicomic nature of families.