Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), prisoner guard and patriarch of a family blind to their own problems lives in the titular City Island, The Bronx. Whether it be his wife Joyce’s (Julianna Marguiles) smoking, daughter Vivian’s (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) becoming a stripper or her brother Vinnie’s (Ezra Miller) fetish for obese women, Each holds secrets they fear will bring chastisement. Vince’s own, taking acting classes while he’s supposedly at a regular poker game appears simple, until he reveals his long-lost son Tony (Steven Strait), is locked up in his jail. Vince has him released into his care without anyone understanding the extent of the situation, a fact that will act as a catalyst for brining these previous tensions to the fore.
As a character Vince is relatively loveable, charming in his ineptitude and yet frustrating for this glaring simplicity. His life is built by upon mistake committed after another and although it is interesting to begin with, it’s not necessarily logical. Every character is eccentric to some degree, thankfully not to their detriment but thematically, these are disclosed too early in the story, leading to a significant drag between this and the inevitable confrontation. Perhaps more time working on simple human dynamics and less on differentiating itself with each player from the outset would have been more advantageous. These elements develop with time but with better handling, could have become more than off-kilter amusement.
Little thought appears to go into the decisions made overall, meaning in spite of the piece’s entertainment value, there is a lack of meaning to proceedings. Case in point is the location itself which, despite being exploited visually, could have easily been set elsewhere, never being tied into the plot itself unless you consider the repetitive utterance of its importance.
Emily Mortimer’s character Molly acts as the catalyst for Vincent’s personal development, resulting in his passive compliance rather than a genuine epiphany. She is the deus ex machina, disappearing once the story comes to a head, the writer/director unsure of how to integrate her fully even in the last moments. The very same happens to Vincent’s son, establishing a strong presence early on to be ignored when his own personal narrative reaches an amicable end. She too however is misplaced in this picture, making the truth she keeps so well hidden far less interesting than the lie she tried so hard to perpetuate.
This is indicative of the story itself; brimming with potential and genuine moments of beauty but written in such a way as to never hit the ground running. Dialogue dances around the point rather than saying what it means, ironic considering the main theme and perhaps purposefully so yet no one appears to be control of what’s unfolding before us.
Sailing through on Strait and Marguiles’ natural charm cannot sustain the piece in the long-term, especially when one considers the horrendous comedic performance put in by Garcia and his real-life daughter Garcia-Lorido, a girl so completely devoid of personality it’s impossible to wonder how she came by the role other than through nepotism. A painfully egregious send up of Garcia’s performance in “The Godfather III” only highlights how miscast he was also.
In a movie where truth is evidently the key to lasting happiness, the reality proves that a secret kept well is far more intriguing.