In America (2002) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief language and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou, Juan Carlos Hernandez
Director: Jim Sheridan
Screenplay: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
It has received fantastic reviews and high accolades, and yet, In America just didn't work for me. It's an honest reaction, and I think even if I'm in the minority, a valid one. Jim Sheridan's (The Boxer, In the Name of the Father) film runs mostly on the charm of its endearing characters, tragic situations, and whimsical beauty amid the worst of circumstances, and like most charming films, it casts its spell over you or it doesn't.
In America tells the tale of an immigrant Irish family that travels to New York, living day to day in a run down apartment in a neighborhood filled with junkies, beggars, and crazy people. The family is coping with the loss of Frankie, their youngest son, who died from a brain tumor induced by a tumble down the stairs. They struggle finding and keeping jobs, being harassed on the ghetto streets, and in dealing with a troubled neighbor (Hounsou, Gladiator) who shouts, rants and acts menacing whenever possible.
It's a film of moments, each scene meant to make you happy or break your heart. The driving engine behind the entire movie is emotion, telling a very personal story (many autobiographical elements of Sheridan's life are related, co-written with his two daughters), and offering up a message of coping for those who have lost something that has been keeping them back. There's an air of magic behind the upbeat scenes, where the eldest daughter, Christy, requests wishes from her deceased younger brother to help pull them out of a scrape now and then. For all its whimsy, it still feels rather mundane, with eccentric characters, New York stereotypes, and a confusing sense of time and place.
There are some things I did like. Sarah and Emma Bolger (real-life sisters) are two of the bright spots of the film, so if you like cute kids in movies, you can't help but like their performances -- they're friggin' adorable. There's also some nice locale work, showcasing a seedier side of New York, and yet, never really condemning it as a hell-hole, even though most people not from there would see it as such. Lastly, In America does finish well, with a very poignant scene as the grieving father and his children stare at the moon and bid their farewells. As touching as that moment is, it still didn't tie together all of the quirky events preceding it in a truly satisfactory way.
In America has its moments, and I suspect by the reaction of most who've seen it, most viewers will find more to like than I had been able to. While others will most likely be enchanted, I found it mostly annoying, especially from a storytelling point of view. However, its a personal film with personal themes, and those who find the family's perseverance inspiring, it may strike a personal chord within you. As a fond farewell to a lost loved one (Sheridan dedicates the film to his real-life brother Frankie, who died at the age of 10), it's a nice tribute, and I can only scratch my head as to why very little of this resonated much feeling within me. It begs for your heart, but like a stranger who emotionally relates a tale of a family tragedy, all I could offer in return was my silent understanding.
©2004 Vince Leo