Understated Indie Puts the Fun in Dysfunction

    “City Island”

    Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Alan Arkin and Steven Strait

    Directed By: Raymond De Felitta

    Rated: PG-13

    3/4 Stars

    When referring to his hometown — a one-square-mile fishing town outside the Bronx called City Island — prison guard Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) says, “Every busy city needs an island of peace, just as every busy soul needs a place of repentance.”

    We get a better idea of what Rizzo’s cryptic utterance really means when he invites a paroled prisoner (Steven Strait) to live with his family. Strange suburban fireworks take off in all directions as the mysterious newcomer’s arrival begins to unravel a web of lies that binds each family member: Rizzo’s taking acting classes, his wife (Julianna Margulies) thinks he’s cheating, his son (Ezra Miller) has a chubby porn obsession, his daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is pole-dancing her way to college and none of them has given up smoking.

    As is to be expected of any Italian-American movie family living in New York, these people stab with sharp wit and even sharper attitudes, creating enough hilarious bickering, inappropriate dinner table discussions and feisty drama to write the second season of “Jersey Shore” — that is, if those guidos had brains.

    While each cast member gets his or her share of hilarious jabs, Miller produces the most laughs with his character’s adolescent one-liners and strange fetishes. After subscribing to a heavyweight porn/baking Web site with his mother’s credit card, he learns his online sugar mama is actually the family’s next-door neighbor. Although his behavior borders between uncomfortable and hilarious, this up-and-coming actor balances an innocent face with unusual x-rated desires in a way that makes him oddly lovable.

    Though the film is predictable — the elder Rizzo discovers through acting that honesty is what matters most — mystery was never director Raymond De Felitta’s intention for this anti-formulaic escape from Hollywood stock cinema. The familial connections and realization that the truth is often easier to cope with than even the most well-intentioned fabrications make for an optimistic and endearing film that deftly sidesteps cliche.

    The New York backdrop and domestic woes are more used and abused in American film than your roommate’s stash of Adderall, but De Felitta relies on both as the foundation for a one-mile-radius world entirely constructed by lies.

    In the vein of dysfunctional family indie hits a la “Little Miss Sunshine,” each quirky cast member wrestles with their own appreciation of truth. The Rizzos are that weird family next door — a little boisterous around dinnertime, but otherwise likeable Average Joes working through complex problems in an imperfect world.

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