Starring: Andy Garci, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin
Directed By: Raymond De Felitta
This is a movie about secrets. How secrets are like a balloon, each little supporting lie is just one more breath into the balloon, and how eventually every balloon goes boom and once that happens everybody left standing has to try to piece everything back together. Everybody in the Rizzo family is puffing away on their respective balloons until Tony, the needle, comes to live with them.
City Island is an actual island in Long Island Sound connected by a bridge to the Bronx. Its roots go back to the seventeenth century as a fishing village. During the first part of the twentieth century it’s boat building tradition was put to use producing minesweepers, tugboats and landing craft for the first and second World Wars. The boat building tradition continues, seven of the Americas Cup winning yachts were built on City Island. It’s a small New England fishing village dropped into the middle of New York City and none of this really has anything to do with the movie beyond providing an interesting backdrop.
That’s not strictly true. Vince Rizzo, Andy Garcia, is a clam digger, meaning that he was born and raised on the island. He is raising his family in the house that his grandfather built. This has shaped him into a bit of a traditionalist and provided him with very fixed notions about what a father and husband is supposed to do and how one should act. Not fitting into that image is acting, which is his secret desire. He’s been sneaking into the city nights to attend an acting class. Lying to his wife, Joyce, Juliana Margulies, that he is going to a poker game. Joyce picks up on the lie but instead of deducing that he’s going to acting classes she imagines that Vince is having an affair. After all why would anybody lie about going to acting classes?
Vivian, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Vince and Joyce’s daughter is living in the city attending college, the first in the Rizzo family to attend college. Or at least that is what her parents believe. She has actually been suspended from school and lost her scholarship. She is now dancing in a strip club to raise money to go back to school. When Spring Break rolls around it doesn’t mean anything to her, but to her parents who believe she is still going to school it means that she will be coming home for the week.
There are other secrets floating around large and small. I don’t want to give them all away, but I have to mention one more that acts as the catalyst to bring it all to a head. Vince works as a prison guard, or as he would prefer, a corrections officer. He notices a familiar name on one of the new transfers to the facility he works in. The name is the same as a woman he walked out on as a young man, before he met Joyce. After looking into the prisoner’s background he finds out that the young man, Tony, played by Steven Straight, is indeed his son. Tony is eligible for parole, but has no family to vouch for him so he is having to serve out the last thirty days of his three year sentence. Vince pulls some strings to get him released to his custody. Tony’s presence upsets the shaky equilibrium between everybody’s secrets and leads to everyone’s balloons getting popped.
The cast assembled for the movie is great; the Rizzos are entirely believable as a dysfunctional family. The direction is solid and transparent, but it’s the story by Raymond De Felitta that shines. It manages to take a simple concept, the toxicity of secrets, and wrap around it several threads which get all tangled up but still manage to get resolved believably with characters that seem real and never appear to do things that contradict everything you’ve learned about them in the previous hour and a half. All while supplying a bunch of smiles and a few great laugh out loud moments. This is not an ambitious movie but it solidly hits every target it puts up.
The video is presented in widescreen format. The transfer is great, I never noticed any aliasing, blooming or other digital artifacts. The colors are beautifully rendered and even the dark scenes are full of detail with very little grain. City Island seems like such an interesting place I would have like to see more of it, but what you do see looks wonderful.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, with Spanish and English subtitles. The dialog is always clear and never trammeled upon by the score. I never noticed any distortion or other distractions with the audio.
The Packaging/Bonus Features
The DVD is packaged in a standard Amaray case with a cardboard slipcase. One of the themes of the movie is secrets which the artwork slyly references. There is not a surfeit of bonus material but what is there is worth viewing. There is a featurette Dinner With The Rizzos featuring a faux meal with Raymond De Felitta and the actors discussing the making of the movie, an audio commentary with De Felitta and Garcia, and the requisite deleted scenes.
I want to describe this film as a great little movie and it is, but “little” comes off as a pejorative so I hesitate to use the phrase. I don’t mean little as not important or of no consequence I just mean it as the opposite of big but even that is not exactly right. No body is trying to save the world, no body’s life is threatened, it’s just the story of one families Spring Break. Nobody outside of the Rizzos life is going to be affected much one way or the other, but to the Rizzos the story is epic.
Overall (Not an Average): 8/10
The Movie: 8/5
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 8/10
The Packaging/Bonus Features: 7/10
Overall (Not and Average) 8/10