Juliana Margulies looks terrific! Maybe it's the way she's grown into her 40s without trying to hide it, or maybe it's the bangs (she's never had bangs before, has she?) or that Bronx dame eyeliner she's rocking, but there's something sexy and fascinating about the close-ups she gets in City Island, a new dramatic comedy from writer-director Raymond De Felitta.
But that's about all there is to see here. As decent as Margulies' performance as Joyce is, the fact that she's aging so gracefully shouldn't take up so much of a viewer's attention. It's just that there's so little else to notice in the rest of the film that it's hard to help it. Andy Garcia, as her husband, Vince Rizzo (Bronx enough for youse?), is good—he's always good—believable and restrained until he blows up in a silly finale. He plays a corrections officer who takes in a parolee who happens to be his secret son from a decades-old teenage fling. Needless to say, this throws his home life into turmoil, especially with his daughter home from college on spring break (or is she?) and his school-skipping son trying to come to terms with his fat-girl fetish.
If that's not enough, Vince is deceiving Joyce by not telling her about the acting class he's taking, and he strikes up a friendship with a young, pretty classmate (Emily Mortimer). Mortimer flits around in the margins of the movie and in several cringe-inducing scenes quotes Ogden Nash and handles stressful situations by declaring them "Greek in scope." Mortimer—who I've always quite liked until now—plays her character as such a negligible, cloying pixie that I actually wondered at one point if she'd turn out to be a figment of Vince's imagination.
When a movie's a piece of junk, there's often exuberance in its trashiness, which can be fun to pick apart and defend from the arbiters of good taste. When a movie's great, it's a worthy challenge to catch up with your breathless response and figure what made it so effective. (Come to think of it, that might even be an important endeavor.) When something's offensive, there's plenty to discuss, and it can be fascinating—at least for the writer, hopefully for the reader—to figure out what we mean by offensive, and to make sure we're not being overly sensitive fuddy-duddies.
City Island is a tolerably charming, modest effort from a polite writer-director: All the information is where it needs to be, the outdoor scenes evoke the proper feeling of sunny outdoorsiness and some of the emotional mechanics of the predictable plot are well-placed enough to elicit a few tears, if you're so inclined (I was). The mostly fine performances of the middle-star professionals involved push forward the predictable action at a mid-tempo pace.
But City Island is also so limp and colored so tidily inside the lines of faux-indie narrative, we can't help but ask—as moviegoers and movie writers—why bother? When a writer-director offers so little, and even seems to be downright deliberate about being sure to offer his audience nothing to grapple with—and then, in a closing-scene voiceover has the audacity to spike us in the face with an out-of-nowhere message about the importance of God—it doesn't make his movie boring, it makes it insulting. City Island might be likeable and forgettable until you start figuring out what it means to be told not to think too much. Then, no matter how hard the movie has tried to resist provocation, it does become downright offensive. Maybe coming down hard on City Island is pointless.