It took 15 producers to bring “City Island” to the screen, which seems an enormous effort to breathe life into a fairly routine set of domestic troubles and idiosyncratic characters swimming around for emotional enlightenment. Fortunately, there’s a cast here that molds something passably meaningful out of a flat screenplay, instilling the material with a sense of dimension and longing that helps to swallow 90 minutes of exaggerated foibles.
Corrections officer Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) dreams of life as an actor, spending his evenings working with scene partner Molly (Emily Mortimer), and keeping a healthy distance from his combative family, including wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies), stripper daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), and sarcastic son Vince Jr. (a painfully affected Ezra Miller). While on the job, Vince learns Tony (Steven Strait), the son he abandoned long ago, is an inmate, which prompts the troubled officer to bring the young man home under the guise of home repair assistance. Hoping to center his life through acting and Tony’s rehabilitation, Vince pushes his family further away, covering his plans with lies that Joyce easily sniffs out, while Tony comes to discover the truth behind his home transfer, leading to further headaches for Vince.
While the producing line-up is flooded with names, the writer/director is simply Raymond De Felitta, one voice trying to wind up a decent quake of quirk. His weapon of choice is domestic insecurities, slapped together on City Island, a tiny New York coastal town that doesn’t know what to do with outsiders, much like the Rizzo clan. It’s a lively, lived-in location for the picture, but the screenplay has less of a secure fingerprint, grabbing wildly for contrivance and oddity to make an impression, allowing pronounced eccentricity to calcify the motion picture.
Vince’s struggle to find his voice, buried under his grueling day job and screeching family obligations, is a sensitive starting point for the filmmaker. While a few choice moments with the lead character and his anxious concern do bubble up during the picture (Vince’s time with Molly softens his metallic exterior), the rest of the screenplay is a pedestrian effort bestowing every character a nugget of hurt or curiosity to suck on throughout the film. “City Island” falls asleep the moment it starts reaching into self-conscious zones of surprise, the most egregious offense found with young Vince Jr., a wiseacre teen who spends his free time nurturing a sexual fetish that involves feeding obese women.
Not that I question the validity of the urge, but the aside is crudely poured into a screenplay that seems hungry for emotional authenticity, instead coming across labored and unimaginative. De Felitta fills the movie with plenty of moments of sitcom aspiration (scored to excerpts from Bizet’s “Carmen” to amplify the whimsy), leaving the film impotent when it comes to matters of the heart.
The ensemble screams and stomps their way through their performances, and their enthusiasm trumps the hysterics for the most part, with Garcia delivering a welcome hurricane of reaction as the man constantly failing upwards. The cast deserves a more considered screenplay than what De Felitta serves up, which spins wildly to find an atmosphere of poetry for the finale. “City Island” doesn’t achieve a secure heartfelt resonance, and while I don’t fault it for trying, it’s not easy to watch the film strain so hard to achieve so little.Rating: C-