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May 7, 2010

Fletch's Film Review: City Island

The more I see, read, hear and/or write about movies, the more I become all-encompassed with the notion of expectations and how much they f*ck with your head.

Read the book first, you'll hate the movie. Hear a flick is great (or build it up in your own head) and odds are you'll walk out underwhelmed. Hear it's the worst and you just might love it. Increasingly, it seems like the best way to experience anything anymore is to simply hear who's involved and/or what the subject matter is, decide whether or not it's for you based on those parameters, and if it's a thumbs up, close your damned eyes and ears as best you can until you walk into the theater.

That's blasphemy, of course. Not just because, you know, I'm one of those people that likes to tell others what to see and why (and listen to recommendations myself), but because that strategy has an expiration date. Eventually, your approved list of actors and/or writers and/or directors would cease to work (or die), and you'd never learn of anything new again. Then no movies would make any money, eventually leading to the studios shutting down, and all we'd be left to watch would be reruns of Two and a Half Men. What a dreadful shame that would be for all.

Luckily, that whole "expectations ruin everything!" theory is proven wrong every now and then.
Such was the case with writer/director Raymond De Felitta's City Island (bonus: I'd never even heard of De Felitta before!). I had it all pegged: quirky indie dramedy about an Italian-American family in a quaint little New York hamlet, with a plot built upon a house of rickety secrets and lies, all waiting to tumble down to the foundation and, perhaps, take the family with it. Expect a few laughs, a few tears (or not), and Alan Arkin doing what he does best.

And you know what? I indeed had it pegged right - but there's one thing that I never saw coming with City Island: that I'd enjoy it so thoroughly. I walked in expecting a 6/10 movie - an excuse for Mrs. Fletch and I to chow down on some popcorn and guzzle 32 ounces of Cherry Coke. What I got was more like an 8/10 film and a 9/10 experience (if that makes sense), as I found myself really taken with all of the characters, charmed by the locale, and impressed with the sharp dialogue.

On top of all that were the performances (make no mistake, this is an acting exercise above all else). Andy Garcia as paterfamilias Vince Rizzo is in his best role in years. Julianna Marguiles like I've never seen her (granted, I really haven't seen much of her over the years). And Emily Mortimer and the aforementioned Arkin throwing in some veteran assists. But what was best were the three (more or less) newcomers: Steven Strait, saved from the depths of his starring role in 10,000 B.C. (I didn't even recognize the guy), playing a potential long-lost son; Dominik Garcia-Lorido (Andy's real-life daughter) as the no-longer-in-college daughter who coincidentally seems to have grown a few bra sizes; and Ezra Miller as the smart-assiest kid you've seen in some time, complete with a "shameful" secret of his own. The vets will keep you grounded and appreciative of their talents, but the youths will be the ones that make you think to yourself, "This kid's got a bright future." One worth following.

And then, you might think to yourself, "See, now I can cover my eyes and ears for their films as well," and continue to escape the expectation train. Even though that's kind of a bad idea.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"It's in the hole!"

Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs

3 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: City Island"

Joseph B. said...

de Felitta seems to have a knack for this type of dynamic North East drama. I haven't seen "City Island", but remember really enjoying his previous film, "Two Family House" which deals with some of the same issues.

Jess said...

Okay, now that I've seen it, I believe you posted a review. A good one too. I can't wait to see this one.

Alex said...

The trailer for this really didn't grab me- like you said, it looks like a typical indie "dramedy" with a premise we've all seen before. Good to hear it works so well though! I might check it out on dvd.