The cool thing about indie films - when well-made - is that there's an honesty to them that you usually don't get in blockbusters. A slice-of-life independent, even if it's taking on a formula genre, separates from the mainstream by showing you things that are just a tad more real. They can be just as entertaining, but they're maybe less polished and a lot more affecting.
The stars of City Island - Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait - have all been in bigger projects, but I'm not sure they've ever been as empathetic or authentic as they are here. The plot, about an Italian American family living in the breezy New York fishing village City Island, seems fairly typical at first. Garcia's a prison guard secretly taking acting classes. Margulies is his wife who thinks he's cheating on her. They have two kids - a wisecracking teen who has a fetish for feeding larger women (for reals) and a college student who hasn't told mom and pop she's lost her scholarship and is stripping to make up the cash. The two other important characters are Steven Strait's parolee who turns out to be Garcia's son (but only Garcia knows that), and the fine Emily Mortimer as Garcia's acting partner.
Conventional movie wisdom says, throw all of this together, hit puree, and voila - an eccentric, funny, emotional dramedy. The incredible achievement of City Island is that it does work so well on those levels. It makes you laugh, it's genuinely moving, and it will remind you of people you know and lives we all lead. I saw it at the Laemmle Monica theater in Santa Monica - a truly awesome indie venue that's been in our neighborhood for years. As I watched it unfold, at first I wasn't sure I could take two hours of this too-real family bickering onscreen, especially with my eyes slightly agitated after two weeks spent in a movie theater. But as these characters started to grow on me, I kept thinking about the other amazing character indies I'd seen at the Monica, and the people I'd seen them with - great friends and films like Sideways, Slumdog Millionaire, Adventureland (multiple times) and foreign fare like the incredible Lives of Others. So far, City of Island hasn't been a breakout hit a la Slumdog or Juno. It deals in smaller wonders. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to catch it. On my journey to this point, the lucky 13th movie ranks alongside Babies as my favorite.
The lovely Laemmle, a stone's throw from Santa Monica beach (and some fun longboard surf spots on either side at Sunset and Bay)...