City Island, as you very probably don't know, is a mile square piece of New York, It's at the northern tip of the Bronx, near Long Island, and, while savvy Manhattan-ites may know it as a chi-chi seaside retreat, it's home to some 5000 people, most of them families who've lived there for generations. Such a secret location is the perfect setting for Raymond de Felitta's utterly charming tale of dark secrets and lies. If that sounds like a contradiction, well, this is a film that defies logic in several ways and one that I fully expect to see high on my Top 10 of the year.
Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a “clam digger” - the City Island term for someone born and raised on the island. As befits his upbringing and community, he's a sdecent, hard-working family man. Although employed as a corrections officer, Vince harbours a dream of being an actor but, given his strait-laced ways, he won't admit it to his family. In fact, he'd rather let his feisty wife Joyce (Marguiles) suspect that his weekly poker games are a cover for an affair rather than admit he's actually attending acting classes.
When his acting coach (Arkin) sets the class a task to discuss their biggest secret, Vince is paired off with the enigmatic Molly (Mortimer) and inspired to bring newly released prisoner Tony (Strait) into his home. Tony, you see, is Vince's long lost son, the child he abandoned many years before – and the child he has never, and still hasn't, admitted to his family. As Tony rapidly discovers, Vince isn't the only member of the Rizzo family with a secret. Joyce, seething over Vince's possible affair, is: a) still smoking; and b) attempting to seduce Tony. Vince's daughter Vivian (Garcia's real life daughter Garcia-Lorido) isn't the college student she's pretending to be but a stripper, while Vinnie Jr (Miller) has a bit of a thing for the larger lady. Even Vince's drama coach and partner turn out to be harbouring secrets and, over the course of the next day or so, all will be revealed.
In other hands, such a rapid escalation would see City Island descend – fatally – into frantic farce. Instead, De Felitta keeps a firm grip on proceedings, allowing each strand the chance to develop but never letting it slip into silliness. This makes the ending, the inevitable big reveal, genuinely poignant. Performances too are first rate. Strait is perfect as the story's catalyst, Garcia-Lorido invests real personality in her slightly limiting role and Miller is hugely likeable in the face of his unusual fetish. It's always a pleasure to see Margulies and she's in fine form, but even so, she's edged by the excellent Garcia. If there is a weakness here it's Emily Mortimer. Not because of her performance, because she's as excellent as she always is, but because Molly's big secret makes her instantly unlikeable. That, however, is the only false note this lovely little film hits and, for 95% of its running time, City Island is reminiscent of the sort of 80s indie that made me fall in love with cinema in the first place.