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REVIEW: City Island

A rare rave from our critic, who is a fan of Andy Garcia

City Island: Rates an A.
Courtesy photo

From the movie poster I saw walking in to the closing credits, City Island is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

I know a few people will think the dysfunctional family antics are a bit silly, but I loved it. It’s the type of movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding could’ve been if it was better written.

Writer/director Raymond De Felitta gave us this gem, which is a tour de force for Andy Garcia. He’s an actor I always enjoy watching on screen, but he’s always in crappy movies.

He and Julianna Marguiles have a lot of chemistry, but I’ve always contended that it isn’t just the actors that bring the “chemistry” but the script. Again, kudos to De Felitta.

Alan Arkin, one of my favorite comedic actors (the original In-Laws is one of my all-time favorite comedies), has an interesting role as an acting coach. He has a big rant to his class about all the pauses in their dialog that is classic. And not only is it funny, but it’s nice to see an acting class in a movie that isn’t either super pretentious or utterly ridiculous. Arkin is giving advice that seems like something that should be said at an acting class.

Another example that this was a well-written film, also involving wannabe actors, has a long line waiting to audition. A few people are rehearsing, but it’s not like in other movies, where everyone in line is practicing their lines and waving their arms around manically.

Since I haven’t seen many commercials for this film, I’m guessing most people don’t even know what it’s about.

In the town of City Island, just outside the Bronx, a prison guard decides to take acting classes. He tells his wife he’s at a poker game. She suspects an affair. This leads her to contemplate having an affair – with the prisoner Garcia brings home to help him build a few things. The reason Garcia takes a liking to this kid – it’s his secret love child.

Garcia’s daughter seems interested, too. Although, she’s busy trying to make money at the strip club, so she can get back into college. She lost her scholarship and is afraid to tell her parents.

And there’s the younger brother, always the weirdest of the family in these types of films. He has a fetish for overweight women, and spends most of his time on the computer looking at them, or spying on his neighbor; sometimes both at the same time.

Emily Mortimer, who I sometimes mistake for Emily Watson, has a great role as an acting partner and confident to Garcia.

I always find it refreshing to see a man and a woman have a great friendship in a film that doesn’t lead to an affair.

Sure, this movie has its share of far-fetched and implausible moments – but we love the characters so much, and the various predicaments they find themselves in – we let it slide.

I didn’t care for Garcia’s Bronx accent at first, but I eventually got used to it. And hey…no critics complained about Nicholson’s horrible accents in The Departed and Prizzi’s Honor…so let’s not worry about Garcia’s here.

One problem films always have when the main couple fights, is that you either take sides with one, or you find they’re both jerks and stop caring about them. That’s not the case here. Even when they have horrible fights, we can understand why they stay together. And we want them to stay together.

I don’t usually look up information about a film before writing my reviews, but I was so impressed by this movie, I had to find out about the writer/director. It turns out De Felitta was nominated for an Academy Award for best Live Action Short Film. And he’s gotten praise for two CDs of jazz piano. It’s only a matter of time before he writes, directs, stars, and composes his own films.

I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next one.

I don’t usually care about any messages the movie may try to convey; but this theme of not hiding your dreams from the ones you love, was touching.

I probably wouldn’t care so much, if I didn’t love almost every scene in this film – from an audition that has Garcia doing the funniest Marlon Brando impersonation since Belushi on Saturday Night Live – to an audition where he screams like a mad man into a camera.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll probably look closer at the guys cleaning up the trash on the freeway. What middle-aged woman wouldn’t want to hire someone like Steven Strait to be their handyman?

Dominik Garcia-Lorido (the real life daughter of Andy Garcia) may have been kicked out of college, but this movie gets an A.