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In America
2003 - PG-13 - 103 Mins.
Director: Jim Sheridan
Producer: Jim Sheridan, Arthur Lappin
Written By: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kristen Sheridan
Starring: Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Samantha Morton, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger
Review by: David Trier
   
Inspired by his own life story, writer/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) shows us how a family in a strange land can overcome a great emotional hurdle.

Irish immigrants Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) bring their two young daughters, Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger) to a shady apartment building east of Harlem. Johnny pursues a frustrating acting career while Sarah works at the local ice cream shop. The family ends up forming an unlikely friendship with an angry African neighbor and the future looks promising. But when Sarah gets pregnant, it forces the family to finally confront their unresolved feelings for their son who passed away in Ireland.

Who the hell is this Paddy Considine and what took him so long to become a star? This is an actor’s actor, capable of portraying subtle simplicity and intense emotional strength all at once. He reminds one of a slightly darker Sam Rockwell. He’s a joy to watch and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him. Samantha Morton is also good, in her slightly bizarre but appealing way. And the young Bolger sisters, charged with carrying the script as much as the parents, are delightful. Tiny Emma has incredible charm and presence and young Sarah has a sublime maturity to her that would take an adult years of training. Djimon Hounsou has his moments, but offers them only in short bursts that are not entirely convincing. But this may be more a function of how underwritten his character is.

Because the story is inspired by truth, Sheridan’s script seems always on the verge of collapse. This happens, then that happens, and it’s all very nice, but what is the plot? Much of the film is soaked up by the parents’ grief of a child we never see. What is more disappointing is the way in which Mateo the neighbor is injected into the story. We are first introduced to him as a painter with a penchant for screaming aloud and a sign on his door that says “keep away”. When the children pester him for a Halloween trick-or-treat, he immediately switches gears and becomes this sensitive weeping mess and everybody’s best friend. The film is also bogged down by sappy and difficult-to-believe moments, such as the father risking their entire savings to win a doll for his daughter at a fair.

Declan Quinn has some nice cinematography, but New York seems a little clean considering the squalor in which this family is supposed to be living. The film has little to do with life “in America” aside from a few cute comments from the kids, but it does raise some new material in terms of the challenges a father is faced with. How do you raise children when you haven’t yet come to terms with yourself?

All in all, In America is pretty whiny and its attempts to pull at your heartstrings only work about half the time. When it does work, however, it makes you hope for this family’s well-being, which is probably the point.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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