“City Island” is my favorite unimportant movie in a long time.
Somewhere between the crutch of basing films on true stories and the dream machines pumping fantasy and science fiction lies the opportunity to contrive something genuine. If a filmmaker can make a contrivance feel genuine, especially a screwball lasagna like “City Island,” this is one of the most satisfying places movie recipes can take you.
Andy Garcia plays an ordinary guy, living an ordinary life in a Bronx, New York neighborhood called City Island. Living with him in the house where he grew up — the house his grandfather built — are the wife and daughter and son he loves dearly. You can tell it's a loving family because everybody's got an attitude. Quick, jibing remarks harbor resentments ... and secrets.
At his unglamorous job as a prison guard — excuse me, “correctional officer” —Garcia's character discovers a son, born of the only errant interlude in his life. He had never known this son. Through an administrative technicality, he brings this man home to stay with his family. His family knows that this mild-mannered, handsome hunk comes from prison. Neither the hunk nor the family know this is a biological relation, but this is not the film's most confounding secret.
The central secret is that an unimaginative, uncommunicative, average, and good-hearted guy has always dreamed of being an actor. He's taking an acting class. Ashamed, he lies to his wife about where he goes. Misunderstandings heighten as he travels an unlikely road toward maybe being in a Martin Scorsese film.
The secrets unravel in the family's life. What's what is never a mystery for the audience, except to discover how this storywriter's concoction of comedy and drama will manage to reach its happy ending.
“City Island” reminds you, with a heartwarming lack of subtlety, how important good storytelling is in movie making.
Garcia's confidently evoked lead, with astute support casting and fun acting, delivers.