Today, I’m talking about the movie, City Island. I chose this movie for a couple of reasons, the first of which is the location. Consider it a research movie of sorts—not for you of course, for me. Elusive Justice takes place in City Island because the crime I chose for my mystery could only take place in a rural area and Manhattan, the setting I use for most of my novels, hardly fits that description. My second reason was because I love the cast. I have a huge schoolgirl crush on Andy Garcia, and I love Juliana Margulies.
So let’s talk about City Island. It’s a quaint fishing village in the Bronx very reminiscent of New England. The island itself is only a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide, but it is beautiful and quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind living there. Okay, enough with the history.
In this story, everyone seems to suffer from paranoia, secrecy, and unsatisfied desires. There’s a lot of yelling in this dysfunctional family, but it’s very reminiscent of my Italian family while I was growing up. Voices were always colliding with one another, and no one stopped talking long enough to listen to what you said. But please don’t let this tidbit stop you from seeing this movie because it’s really a wonderful film.
Vince Rizzo, played by Andy Garcia, is a corrections officer, wannabe actor and beleaguered husband. Because of their strained relationship, Vince doesn’t tell his wife, Joyce, (Julianna Margulies), he’s taking acting classes. He thinks he’s a nobody because he doesn’t have a college education. Acting has been one of his childhood dreams and he’s trying it out, if for no other reason than to satisfy himself. He tells Joyce he’s going to play poker.
For her part, Joyce is the personification of matrimonial displeasure: With a hot Italian temper, she could strip the hair off your arms with the heat of the venom that comes out of her mouth. As a proud Mama, she puts all her hopes and dreams into her college-student daughter, Vivian, played by Dominick Garcia-Lorido—Andy Garcia’s daughter in real life. What neither parent knows is that she’s been booted out of college and lost her scholarship for smoking pot in her room. She’s now working as a pole-dancing stripper to make some fast money to get back into school before her parents find out.
Ei-yi-yi-yi-yi. Okay, so now we have their young son, Vince, Jr. who’s a little odd. He’s a thirteen going on thirty-type. After spying on his rather large neighbor, Denise, he learns she has a chubby-chaser Web site. He's in heaven. Weird, I know. But the movie doesn’t linger on the subject too long. Truth is, Vince Jr.'s fatty fetish pales by comparison to the baggage Dad's carrying around. Frankly, they could have removed this whole section of the film and it wouldn’t have been missed.
Some of that baggage is Vince has a son he’s never met, and has certainly never told his wife about the kid’s existence. Vince was 19 at the time when he learned the girl was pregnant and bailed on her. But not before handing over the money he’d intended to use for college. Wasn’t that big of him? NOT! This has somehow helped his conscious over the years, but now that Vince is older, he’s feeling the guilt. The son, whose name is Tony, gets into trouble and is incarcerated in the state facility where daddy works and they’re meeting for the first time. Rather than see his son stay in the facility, Vince works out an arrangement with the warden to allow him to take Tony on the basis of a work program. The work is building a bathroom in the outside shed for his wife, which is where Tony sleeps.
Garcia gives a very convincing and moving portrayal of Vince—especially when he goes on his first acting call. His acting teacher is cynical enough to deflate any aspiring thespian’s ego. But he goes on a casting call because one enthusiastic classmate, Molly, neutralizes his innate pessimism. The Molly-Vince equation is refreshing: a romance-free relationship that's about sharing one's secret self.
Joyce finds Molly’s business card in a book Vince has stashed in the linen closet in the bathroom. Vince reads the book while he’s puffing on his cigarette every morning—a habit Joyce thinks he’s kicked, by standing on the toilet with his head sticking out the skylight. Joyce has also promised not to smoke, but she’s pulling the closet smoker when Vince isn’t around too.
The reason Molly gave Vince her phone number was in case he needed encouragement. Since Joyce knows nothing about his acting classes, she has convinced herself Vince is cheating on her. Just to be spiteful, she invites Tony, who by the way, is one handsome hunky-looking guy, to go to the store under the auspices of buying bathroom fixtures. One thing leads to another and she’s accosting and groping Tony in the car to get even with Vince. Tony, who knows about Vince’s acting classes declines her advances and warns her that she may be all wrong about Vince’s poker games. Joyce gets mad because he’s rejected her and drives home. Now Tony is upset and he steals her car to drive over to a stripper joint, which turns out to be where the daughter is working the pole. Tony is furious, especially since he’s taken a liking to this entire family despite their flaws.
The scene switches over to Tony pacing outside waiting for Vivian to make an appearance. She comes out in her bathrobe and he handcuffs the daughter to him and drives back to the house where it soon becomes the reveal of dirty linens.
Vince is celebrating with Molly after learning he’s been called for a second time for the role in a Martin Scorsese film. After the celebration, he convinces Molly to come home with him as his moral support while he tells his wife about his acting.
Neither knows that Joyce is upstairs in the bedroom. She has already called the number on the business card and has heard Molly’s voice. It appears she’s waiting for Vince to return so she can give him a piece of her mind. When Joyce hears their voices in the living room, she slithers down the stairs and ultimately blasts her poison venom at Molly who leaves immediately. Now Tony and Vivian, who’s still in the bathrobe, have returned home. Seeing them together, Dad goes berserk—his two kids are cuffed together and she’s wearing her bathrobe. Vince’s first thought is that Tony is shacking up with his daughter—more importantly, Tony’s sister. They have an altercation and Vince cuffs Tony to a pole. He wants answers.
This is when everything comes to a head with Tony egging them all on to stop lying to one another and tell the truth. Ultimately, everyone reveals what’s going on except Joyce, who decides it’s in the best interest of the family to keep her groping session with Tony a secret.
One of the amazing things about "City Island" is the realization -- during its small-caliber apocalypse/climax -- of just how many enormous secrets are being harbored by so few people. A stripper. An illegitimate son. Forbidden lust. Illicit smoking. It's enough for an entire season of "Days of Our Lives!"