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Review: City Island

Surprises and family secrets spark a delightful comedy.

City Island (R)

En español  |  Viewing a slice-of-life domestic comedy is kind of like attending someone else's family reunion: you'll be bored stiff unless, as you poke around the house, you happen upon some utterly juicy, totally irresistible surprises. Such revelations come with delightful frequency in City Island, the story of a decidedly middle-class family that couldn't be more predictable, except for the many ways in which they are not.

The Rizzo family lives on City Island, a small fishing community just off The Bronx mainland that most New Yorkers don't even know exists. The island's narrow streets with their modest single-family homes are perhaps New York's best-kept secret, and here the Rizzo family also harbors myriad personal secrets, some dark, some trivial. In any case, while their personal lives spin off wildly, each Rizzo grimly pursues the Holy Grail of outward conformity, leading to an intricate web of lies that they tell to each other, and often to themselves.

Andy Garcia is Vince, who earns the family bread as a prison guard. One day he brings home a young man (Steven Strait) he's personally had sprung from the slammer—an act of apparent charity that he fails to mention is born of the fact that the kid is his long-lost son, a child he never told his wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), about. She's already suspicious about his supposed "poker nights," and she should be—but not for the reasons she thinks. Vince isn't fooling around; he's taking acting classes from Alan Arkin, playing himself in a very funny cameo. Meanwhile, their daughter has found a secret unsavory job when she's supposed to be at college, and their son has developed a strange Internet obsession. And as for long-suffering Joyce, well, that handsome young fellow her husband has brought home is starting to look better and better.

City Island draws its humor from the lengths the people closest to you will go to keep a secret, no matter how small, and how those little secrets can snowball into full-blown deceptions. Garcia, the lovable lug, and Margulies, the exasperated, ultimately devoted wife, paint a touching portrait of the redeeming drudgery of midlife love. Through it all, the Rizzo family, under the guidance of writer/director Raymond De Felitta, remains lovable in its clumsy struggles to keep up appearances.