Andy Garcia and cast shine in “City Island”
Mention New York City and I immediately conjure up images of Broadway neon, rats, David Letterman, big rats, the Yankees, Coney Island, bigger rats, crowded subways, concrete canyons raining ticker tape, Yogi, Mickey and King Kong. Did I mention King Kong-sized rats? So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a New England-style enclave located in the Borough of the Bronx called City Island that serves as the bucolic, sailboat-bobbing backdrop for the new Andy Garcia-Alan Arkin comedy “City Island” which debuts March 19 in New York and L.A.
The film, an audience award winner at the Trifecta Film Festival, is reminiscent of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Moonstruck,” but while comedies about dysfunctional families are about as rare as Starbucks drive-thru’s, writer-director Raymond De Felitta has created a dysfunctional family one can not only root for in earnest, but leave the theater actually liking (even if they all have the annoying habit of stealing smokes when nobody’s watching them).
The patriarch is Vince Rizzo (Garcia), a prison guard with a Bronx accent accustomed to dealing with the undertow of life who harbors dreams of becoming an actor, but isn’t comfortable telling the family about the drama classes he’s taking on the side. So, Vince studies up on Marlon Brando whenever he’s alone and then hides the book on Brando in the bathroom. Then there’s his hot-tempered wife, Joyce (Julianne Margulies), who would like a little zest put back in her marriage and erupts when her husband asks for something special for dinner. Ezra Miller plays their teenaged son, Vinnie, who’s bizarre sexual fetish with morbidly obese women and the food they consume leads him to befriend a fat neighbor next door. And then there’s Vinnie’s older sister, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Garcia’s real-life daughter), who returns home from college but doesn’t tell anyone that she’s secretly working nights at a local strip club.
Rounding out the cast is Steven Strait, who plays a hunky young prisoner named Tony, who Vince invites home to stay for awhile, not telling Tony or his family that he is convinced Tony is the son he fathered by another woman and abandoned years before.
Misunderstandings abound in the Rizzo household. When Joyce discovers that her husband isn’t at work, she believes he is having an affair, so she decides to take revenge by coming on to Tony. Emily Mortimer is Molly, a member of the drama class, who befriends Vince. As drama teacher Michael Malakov, Arkin builds on the deadpan curmudgeon that fit him so well in “Little Miss Sunshine” that he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
Garcia’s impersonation of Brando during an audition for a Martin Scorsese film had the audience roaring with laughter during a special screening Wednesday night at the Landmark Theater in Westwood. There were more laughs when teenager Vinnie remarks at the dinner table that his sister’s breasts seem to be getting larger and a peeved Joyce catches her husband gazing at their daughter’s chest. Arkin, meanwhile, delivers a humorous rant to his drama students about something that really annoys him: actors who pause for dramatic effect when delivering their lines.
Garcia, who is a producer on the film, addressed the crowd at the Landmark prior to the screening. He said the entire shoot lasted only 27 days and he’s had children born that required more labor. While mild-mannered and introspective, you can tell Garcia is proud of the film, as he should be. His performance is, at turns, hilarious, manic and powerful. The scene where he nearly botches his audition by trying to mimic Brando is a classic and then the true talent of Garcia is showcased when he is called back to asked to improvise into the camera. Garcia also noted that many of Arkin’s lines were improvised.
If I had my way, some smart TV network executive would watch “City Island” and then turn the Rizzo’s into a weekly comedy – sort of an update on the Bunkers. But TV now seeks out real-life eccentrics to put on camera.