At its core City Island might be just another dysfunctional family comedy, but it clearly stands above the rest in humor, heart, and creativity. Exceptional character actors fill out the cast and the script is an engaging blend of sarcastic wit, cynical insights, and the darkly comical truth about lies. The plot shares few parallels to the brilliant dark comedy Little Miss Sunshine, but comparisons to that film can be made concerning the outline of a family of misfits whose individual problems and secrets first cause disaster before finally bringing them all closer together. As our protagonists quickly discover, just being yourself is hard enough without also having to become the fictitious inventions of dishonesty.
In the peaceful old fishing village of City Island (stretching approximately one square mile) lives the perfectly normal Rizzo family. Well, not perfectly normal. Actually, not normal at all. Each member of the family harbors a hefty secret and in their attempts to keep them from one another they only drive themselves further apart. Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) works by day as a corrections officer and by night pursues his dreams of becoming an actor in a small theater class (taught by the inimitable Alan Arkin). His wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) suspects him of having an affair as he covers up his extracurricular activities with the excuse of playing poker. His daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is supposed to be in college but instead works in a strip club and his son (Ezra Miller) struggles with his strange desires to feed huge woman lots of food. But the biggest secret of all is Vince’s long lost son Tony (Steven Strait) who he just brought home from prison…
Everyone has secrets, and City Island makes uncovering them smartly entertaining. No one seems altogether content in the typical dysfunctional Rizzo family, although their level of maladjustment cleverly grows more cavernous as the movie progresses. A little lie like not giving up smoking gives way to larger secrets like frequent theater classes. For the Rizzo’s, it’s not so much about keeping privileged information from one another, but about failing to effectively communicate. Refusing to elaborate is just so much simpler.
Just as cumbersome behavioral problems always lead to acting, the more deviant the secret, the more enthralling it is. City Island is a slice-of-dysfunctional-life comedy, full of fetishes, obsessions, and mistakes that plays like a film festival entry – one that is better than it should be and deserves a larger audience, but probably won’t get it. All of the acting is sensational, especially Garcia’s, who gives a very real, authentic and enjoyable performance. These kinds of independent films exploit, give insight into, and carefully examine odd personalities and bizarre roles, but never make it so awkward that it’s unbelievable. This placement in reality is a strong point, perfectly complimented by the music of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, the Oscar-winning composer of Finding Neverland, and the casual, honest presentation of life’s misunderstandings, even when the Rizzo’s lives become more off-the-wall than most.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)