“Two words stand in stark relief to each other,” says a character in the film City Island as he muses on the name of the unique New York City neighborhood that gives the movie its name. Like Martha’s Vineyard dropped in the Bronx, City Island is a study in contrasts and a secret treasure. But as Raymond De Felitta’s romantic comedy about a dysfunctional Italian-American family brings the secluded island into the open, that may change. “Even people in Manhattan don’t know where it is,” says Andy Garcia, who stars as the film’s family patriarch, Vince Rizzo, a prison guard-turned-thespian who idolizes film icon Marlon Brando. “The movie’s going to expose it.”
City Island depicts its namesake as a place torn between the “mussel suckers” and the “clam diggers”—gentrifi ers and longtime residents. Prior to filming there, Garcia had been on the island only once, for a jam session with Cachao, the Cuban bassist and composer who was a pioneer of the mambo, at the City Island nightclub owned by Tito Puente. But in the film, the Cuban-American actor’s role had him treading familiar territory: playing an Italian, which he’s done several times throughout his career. “I think I’ve [undergone a] metamorphosis by now out of sheer eating of pasta,” he jokes.