“City Island” (2009 production/2010 release). Cast: Andy Garcia, Julianna Marguiles, Steven Strait, Dominik García-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin, Hope Glendon-Ross, Carrie Baker Reynolds. Director: Raymond De Felitta. Screenplay: Raymond De Felitta. www.cityislandmovie.com
Personal integrity can be a slippery concept to get one’s hands around, especially for those who have difficulty being truthful with themselves about what they genuinely want and who they truly are. That notion gets put to the test, with results both hilarious and touching, in the new slice-of-life comedy, “City Island.”
The Rizzo family is a piece of work. The dysfunctional foursome—father Vince (Andy Garcia), mother Joyce (Julianna Marguiles), daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) and son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller)—lives on New York’s City Island, a secluded Bronx neighborhood separated from the borough’s mainland by a narrow channel. The former fishing village is a world unto itself, which makes this isolated enclave a suitably appropriate habitat for the Rizzos, a family whose members are, for all practical purposes, fundamentally disconnected from one another (not to mention from themselves). The reason? They’re all seriously in denial about their lives, barely able to face up to their individual truths, let alone confide them to one another.
Vince, for instance, is a public corrections officer who secretly wants to be an actor and is clandestinely taking classes in the subject (under the cover story of hanging out with his poker buddies); as a family man, he’s reluctant to admit this aspiration out of fear of appearing irresponsible. Vivian, meanwhile, who is supposedly home on break from college, uses this seemingly plausible ruse to conceal what she’s really doing: taking some time off from her job at a gentlemen’s club, where she uses her “dancing” skills to raise money to replace a lost scholarship. And Vince Jr., the randy teen that he is, quietly surfs online to fulfill his fetish of finding big beautiful women whom he can feed to their (and his) heart’s content. But those secrets are nothing compared to what’s about to come.
While reviewing the roster of newly arrived inmate tranfers at work one day, Vince discovers that one of them is his long-lost son, Tony (Steven Strait), a child who Vince abandoned years ago—and who has no clue who his father is. Tony’s conditional parole status would allow him to be released early if placed in the care of a family member, but since no such relatives are officially known to exist, he’s obligated to complete his time behind bars. When Vince learns this, his guilt gets the better of him, so he intervenes on Tony’s behalf, getting him released into his custody as a special favor. Not surprisingly, Tony is skeptical about Vince’s unexplained motives, but he accepts the offer of newfound freedom nonetheless. Little does Tony know, however, that his release will ultimately be even more liberating for the Rizzos than it will be for him—that is, if Vince ever reveals the true identity of the household’s new resident.
Being authentic with ourselves often requires getting in touch with our intuition, that little but powerful inner voice that delivers messages of truth that are often seemingly nonsensical and/or difficult to accept. Embracing our intuition is crucial to making effective use of conscious creation/law of attraction principles, fulfilling the potential of our true selves and living our lives with integrity. But the more we try to stymie the intuition’s messages, the more challenging life generally becomes. We frequently resort to compensating measures, like lying or hiding out, to keep the truth in check, but that only spawns new complications to deal with, requiring even more compensating measures that take us ever further away from the destiny that’s meant to be materialized.
This scenario plays out repeatedly in the film, creating a bona fide comedy of errors. For instance, when Vince’s acting instructor (Alan Arkin) quite fittingly assigns his students to pick partners for an exercise in revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, Vince pairs up with his classmate Molly (Emily Mortimer). They subsequently spend much time together and become good (platonic) friends. But when Joyce becomes suspicious of all the time Vince spends “playing poker” and discovers a business card with Emily’s phone number, she thinks the worst. Since Joyce already feels alienated from Vince, and now has evidence that he may be cheating on her, she seeks attention from the most readily available source, Tony. Joyce, of course, is totally unaware who the handsome young man really is, and the recently released convict understandably finds such ready temptation difficult to resist. As a consequence, Joyce and Tony come to face the prospect of having to keep secrets of their own, and all because Vince can’t admit to his wife that he wants to be an actor rather than a prison guard. Living one’s life openly and with integrity suddenly seems eminently simpler by comparison.
Ironically, the character most acquainted with personal restriction, Tony, is also the most truthful with himself (and with others). Those around him, who have always been free to express themselves, nevertheless find it unbearably difficult to do so. Perhaps the limitation of expression imposed on Tony by his prison sentence was enough to teach him the value of this virtue. Fortunately, his adoptive family comes to learn from his example, and it’s a good thing they do, too, for they ultimately find their lives a lot less complicated—and considerably more enjoyable—for having done so.
“City Island” is a fun little film, one that, with word-of-mouth recommendations, has the potential to become a sleeper hit, much like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” While its insights are indeed profound, it’s anything but heavy-handed. The picture is somewhat predictable but also has many pleasant moments and some great situational laughs, well executed by a fine ensemble cast (especially Garcia and Marguiles).
The next time you’re tempted to ignore your intuition, to shade the truth or to downplay your integrity, think about the lessons of this film and all the time and trouble you can save yourself by following your own best wisdom. Listening to that inner voice will reward you with a life you’ll be proud and happy to live.
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.