City Island (2010)

Rated PG-13. Our Ratings: V-1; L-5; S/N-4. Length: 1 hour

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my
secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

Alls well that ends well for the troubled Rizzo family.
2010 Anchor Bay Films

Writer and director Raymond de Felitta has given us an interesting Walter Mitty-like character in Vince Rizzo, engagingly played by Andy Garcia. He is a corrections officer who lives with his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies), daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcio-Lorido), and son, Vinnie (Ezra Miller) on City Island. The Island is at the edge of the Bronx, with the houses typical Bronx style, but the waterfront and its many restaurants reminding one of a New England fishing village. Vince is a corrections officer at a nearby prison, but he dreams of following his heart into theater acting. Currently he is reading while in the bathroom a book by his idol Marlon Brando.

He does more than dream. Despite his blue-collar background, he has enrolled in a drama class in Manhattan. Too shy to admit his thespian ambitions to his wife or children, he has told them that he is going to play poker with the guys the night of his class.

Michael Malakov (Alan Arkin) teaches the class—and hates Marlon Brando and his affected style. When he pairs the students off and instructs them to get ready to share their deepest secret with each other, Molly (Emily Mortimer) and Vince become acting partners. They become acquainted when they stop at a bar, each sharing something of their background, with Vince revealing that his secret is that he has not told his wife about his acting class.

Soon Vince has another secret. Looking over the papers of the newly arrived prisoners, he discovers that one of them, Tony (Steven Straight), is the son of the girl with whom he had an affair when he was 19—and thus his son. Without revealing this to the young man or preparing his wife, Vince secures custody of Tony and brings him home to stay with them for a month. The ensuing storm this creates with wife Joyce is both hilarious and painful to watch. Vince’s lame story that he has brought Tony to help him install a bathroom in the shed behind the house satisfies no one.

Turns out that the others have secrets too. Vivian is not home from college just for a break, and her clandestine attempt to raise money so she can return to college is not one that her family will accept. Son Vinnie has an obsession for overweight women, and one in particular living across the street who operates a web cam site that is a combination of food obsession and a small dose of sex. And the frustrated Joyce, strongly suspecting that her husband is cheating on her, throws herself at Tony during an unguarded moment in their car.

All these secrets burst out into the open in a scene that is part farce and part grand opera, with all the major characters facing each other on the street between the Riccos and the house of the heavy woman who happens to be entertaining Vinnie and his new girl friend at the moment. Whether a tragedy or a farce hangs on a slender thread that—well, you have to see the scene for yourself. The coarse language might make this problematical for some groups, but for many, this will be a fun film to watch and discuss as a parable about aspiring to obtain one’s dream, as well as the entangling effects of a lie.

For reflection/Discussion Contains spoilers.

1. What do you think of Vince’s dream? What about his not telling anyone in his family about it? Have you wished you could do something that others might question? What did you do?

2. What are some of the so-called “white lies” accepted by our society? List them, and include the reason or excuse for indulging in them. What do you think is better—to always tell the truth, or to try to avoid telling someone something that you think will hurt him or her? What do you think of Paul’s “speaking the truth in love” (see Eph. 4:15)?

3. What do you think of Vince’s audition? At what point did Vince let go of himself and become another person? How is good acting a matter of appropriating from the experience and others and ourselves?

4. How is Tony a catalyst for much that happens in the story? In the car with Joyce who is it that saves the situation? Would you have expected this?

5. What does Vince say about God at the end of the film? How have they all received “a second chance” ? What did you think of ending with a meal, one that began (did you note?) with a brief table grace? Compare this meal with the earlier ones: table of disharmony vs. table of peace? Maybe even a foretaste of a heavenly banquet? (I know, we need to be careful in not reading too much into such a film as this.)