Wednesday, April 21, 2010

City Island

A crowd-pleaser indie with comic chops and charm to burn

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

City Island is the kind of movie that's increasingly hard to find, a human-scaled indie with a small budget, some fairly big stars and a few huge laughs. That it's currently easier to make a $100 million-dollar movie about robot dragon ninjas than a much smaller film involving actual humans is a fascinating discussion for another time, but it is sort of refreshing to see a quaint little movie bask in its own modest pleasures, with nary a 3-D cyborg or unleashed Kraken in sight.

Andy Garcia tweaks his intense image, starring here as Vince, a native of a Bronx seaport enclave, and a corrections officer with a gruff exterior concealing a heart of pure, sticky pudding. He's so guarded that he tells his hair-trigger-tempered wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) that he has a weekly poker game, while he sneaks off to acting class in the city. As the grizzled acting coach, Alan Arkin gives a marvelous rant about how Marlon Brando ruined the whole craft with his incessant, meaningless pauses. Of course, Vince doesn't heed this critique, Brando is his idol, and he sets out to ape the Wild One's rebel posture, no matter what the scene or situation actually calls for. The adorable Emily Mortimer plays Vince's very friendly acting partner, and though her tea-cozy daintiness seems slightly out of place, her warmth overwhelms our suspicions, as does the movie.

Vince's second life is just one of the closetful of secrets being held by this loving but tightly wound family, including two teen kids working overtime to seem normal, while hiding kinky quirks like stripping and chubby-chasing. Further complicating things, Tony (Steven Strait), the paroled inmate that Vince has sponsored, may have been the product of a decades-old fling. Strait's like a lightweight James Franco, though his easy charisma pulls him through every scene, especially his mildly upsetting but flirty interactions with Margulies. All of the subplots collide as the clichés keep popping up like weeds through suburban sidewalks; the revelations come too pat, but the flick has charm to burn. This is crowd-pleasing tripe, leavened with extra layers of depth by the delightful cast, and made consistently enjoyable despite some overheated silliness.

Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


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