In America (2002)


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Warning, minor plot points revealed!

The Irish immigrant family moves to New York City to start new after the death of their young son film, In America, is a happy and sad movie of perfect pitch and balance.  Of all the Oscar nominated films that I saw last week,  this is the one that I had the least interest in, despite it's glowing reviews.  The story just seemed like it would be boring.  I believe my own impending fatherhood was the ultimate reason that the film resonated with me.  It is also the second film of 2003 that made me cry (The House of Sand and Fog was the other) so it must be somewhat touching or I'm just becoming a big overly sentimental crybaby.  

The movie tells the story of a Irish husband and wife and their two little daughters who sneak into the United States, via Canada, to start a new life.  Johnny, the father, is a struggling actor who takes a job driving a cab to earn a meager support for his family.  His wife, Sarah takes a job at a local ice cream parlor.  The two little girls, the extroverted younger Ariel and the introvert older Christy are excited by their new surroundings and start school that fall.  The only place the family can afford to live is in a broken down half condemned tenement peopled entirely by drug addicts, weirdo's and psychotics.  The girls befriend the crazed Nigerian painter who lives down stairs.  The film supposedly takes place in the 80's and Mateo, the angry artist, is dying of the misunderstood disease AIDS.  The plight of the family and Mateo becomes intertwined as their relationship develops and together they face life's adversities.  

There are anachronisms in the film.  For example, Christy's hobby is to record everything on a small hand held video camera.  Video camera's were huge and bulky in the 80's and far outside the price range of a struggling immigrant family that can't afford a $1.99 adapter for their broken air conditioner.  There are other discrepancies provided by the typical New York City backdrop.  I heard the film maker, Jim Sheridan, was aware of these but decided they were inconsequential to the story.  I actually like the idea that he did not feel as if he had to "recreate" the time period.  The film says it's the 80's so it is.  

The actors all do great work that resulted in Samantha Morton being nominated as Best Actress for Sarah and Djimon Hounsou for Best Supporting Actor for Mateo.  If we're just handing out nominations, I would also recommend little Emma Bolger for her portrayal of Ariel.  She is an outstanding child actor and is perfectly cast along with her real life older sister, Sarah Bolger as family videographer Christy.  Paddy Considine does great work as Johnny.  His impossible struggles to become an actor and support and protect his growing family are expertly realized.  

I enjoyed In America very much.  Although it is somewhat based on the real life of director Sheridan and co-written with his two real life daughters Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan the film maintains a fantasy quality as well.  It has an 'all things work out in the end' theme that never lets you really worry that this family isn't going to make it.  In real life I would assume that they would have all been murdered in their sleep the first night after they moved into their drug lair and little Christy's precious video camera would have been pawned immediately and injected into the track-marked arm of one of their neighbors.