City Island

Proud Assimilation

City Island is indeed an island?a superior small film standing proudly alone this season in its American excellence about a fishing village in the Bronx where Rizzo family shenanigans happen just short of magical realism. They're eccentric in the Royal Tenenbaums/Moonstruck tradition with a touch of American Beauty hard edge.

Andy Garcia's Vince, a corrections officer (Please don't call him a "prison guard") keeps from his domineering wife, Joyce (Joanna Marguiles) the fact that he's taking acting lessons; he is aided by friendly fellow actor Molly (Emily Mortimer). Meanwhile ex-con son, Tony (Steven Strait), returns to the family (unknown as son to anyone else but Vince); like a Flannery O'Connor outsider, he changes things.

City Island could be subtitled "Secrets and Lies" because everyone in the family is withholding information and thereby causing mayhem. Through it all, they retain a dignity that surfaces when all is exposed and life begins again. So good-hearted is Vince, so loving is Joyce, so honest is ex-con Tony, and so lost is Molly that you are drawn into the family and watch one of their passionate dinners as if you were attending as a close friend. Believe me, I know Italian eating habits, and the combat of words at the table is one of the best Italian family scenes ever.

Granted, everyone manages to anger someone, but the loving care surfaces just when you thought there was no hope. Although their little family island has been breached by Tony, they are better for the disclosures. Alan Arkin's effective turn as a drama coach is a metaphor for the family's need to disclose.

City Island is NYC, Roosevelt Island, and all American cities, small and large, where Americans assimilate newcomers and their own eccentricities with a charm and good humor of which to be proud.

This is lovely film, presided over by a caring Garcia, whose understanding of reality in film is first-rate.