(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This comedy-drama is a real joy. In an Italian-American family living on an island off the Bronx, everyone has a secret or two that he keeps from the others. These secrets and the misunderstandings they cause become a major force in the family. Writer/director Raymond De Felitta has an uncommon talent for creating simple but compelling characters. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

A few years ago I took a film that I had recorded off cable and watched it in three parts while I was on an exercycle. I found myself with the rare experience of looking forward to my next exercise session so I could see more of the film. After the third session and final session I got off the exercycle and immediately ordered the DVD expressly to share the movie with other people. The film was TWO FAMILY HOUSE, written and directed by Raymond De Felitta. CITY ISLAND is also written and directed by De Felitta. De Felitta has a penchant for creating flawed but likable characters that the viewer cares about. I find myself at the beginning of most sequences in the film just feeling it is good that I am going to see more of these characters. Few writers have that knack.

Living in the City Island, an island near the Bronx, the Rizzo family outwardly seems to function fairly normally with a few minor tensions. Perhaps that is part of the point of this film. But in fact it is a house of secrets. "Corrections officer"--everyone thinks "prison guard" when they hear that--Vince Rizzo (played by Andy Garcia) is fascinated by Marlon Brando. Those nights when he tells his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) he is playing poker he is really taking acting lessons to be like Brando. Joyce is sure he is not playing poker and draws her own conclusions. Vince's daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Garcia's actual daughter) left college when her scholarship was revoked and is working as a pole dancer. Teenage Vinnie, Jr. (Ezra Miller), is obsessed with feeding fat women, especially neighbors. These secrets could have gone on, but Vincent has one more secret. Years ago, before he knew Joyce he had a fling and fathered a child whom he abandoned. Now one of the new inmates at the prison is almost certainly his son. Only Vincent knows, but he arranges for the boy Tony (Steven Strait) to be released into his custody for a month. This will affect all the secrets.

Andy Garcia is not usually a comic actor. Here he seems a little older and wiser than we would expect. He also is not as buff as he used to be. Along for the ride are Alan Arkin (who seems to be making a later career of off-beat comedies) and Emily Mortimer as Vince's partner in acting class and later his confidant.

The characters are a major draw to this film, but in the end this films feels a little much like the build-up to a Big Scene, very likely the first scene written. As good as that scene is, it is also contrived and the film feels a bit much like it is all in service to creating that scene. Because TWO FAMILY HOUSE was based on a true story it may have needed less contrivance.

De Felitta returns to some of his themes from TWO FAMILY HOUSE. Vince, like the main character of his previous film, knows what he wants and holds on when others tell him it is unrealistic. With another returning theme the long-time residents of City Island, the cliquish end of Bronx, look down on newcomers. They call the newcomers "mussel-suckers." The families that go back for generations are the "clam-diggers." The Rizzo family are proud to be clam-diggers.

De Felitta makes rewarding comedies with real people. I rate this film a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. I wonder if the inspiration for the policeman who wants to become an actor came from Danny Aiello.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper