There’s a certain kind of indie film that feels like they ought to be made-for-cable movies, except they cuss and swear too much and maybe have a little too much flesh in them. They’re competently made; they just somehow don’t feel big enough to be filling up the big screen. If pressed, I could probably come up with ten movies I’ve seen in the last year that feel like that. “City Island” is one of them.
Andy Garcia plays a prison guard (pardon me, corrections officer) who lives in the same small, secluded community in New York where he and his father and grandfather grew up. He idolizes Marlon Brando and dreams of becoming an actor; a dream so outlandish to his wife and family that he pretends to be playing poker when really he’s taking acting classes. His wife knows it’s a lie, but thinks he has a mistress. Won’t she be shocked and proud when she learns the truth, especially after he lands a small part in a Scorsese/De Niro film. It’s fun to see Margulies return to the screen; I hadn’t seen her since she left “ER” years ago. I hardly recognized her. Emily Mortimer is Garcia’s acting partner, and is all wispy and romantic to offset his gruff, working-class demeanor; her breathy English accent works against his tough Bronx vowelizations. Seems like everyone in “City Island” has some kind of accent, and the only actor who doesn’t seem to be focusing more in the accent than the acting is Alan Arkin, who plays Garcia’s acting teacher. He’s not faking an accent; just talks that way.
Garcia may not be dumb, but he sure is an idiot; he brings home a long lost son, doesn’t tell his family who this tall dark and handsome stranger is, and then puts him to work shirtless in the backyard while he’s off at prison. He looks very, very good with his shirt off. Did I mention Garcia has a 19-year-old daughter home from school on spring break? Except she’s not on spring break, she got kicked out of school and is now a stripper. And she doesn’t fool around with the mysterious shirtless hunk in the backyard, Margulies does. Because she thinks Garcia’s fooling around on her. Oh boy.
It all builds to a grand shouting/fighting match when the truth about everyone comes out, in the middle of the street, with all the neighbors watching and the shirtless one handcuffed to a light pole. This is the kind of farcical scene that really works better on the stage than on the screen; it’s reminiscent, a bit, of Moliere or one of Shakespeare’s more ridiculous comedies. It kind of works here, almost. Anyway it’s possible, I think, to get caught up in the characters and the dramas, their secrets and the secret yearnings behind them. Garcia and Margulies probably handle all the shouting (did I mention there’s a lot of shouting in “City Island?” It’s almost non-stop) better than most actors/actresses would, but sadly, there’s really no hint of the kind of gravitas/menace Garcia’s been able to bring to his more serious films. This is a silly comedy, and it’s played that way. You’ll likely find it on cable sometime soon, and you may pause in your channel surfing, at least until the next commercial. But then you’ll go on, and end up watching the Food Channel again.