In America Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : Jim Sheridan
In order to embrace the more fableistic elements of "In America," director Jim Sheridan's fond semi-autobiographical parable about a contemporary family of Irish illegals trying to make good in dilapidated, drug-plagued Hell's Kitchen, it may be necessary to remind yourself that this grown-up film is narrated from a child's point of view.
This will make it possible, for example, not to roll your eyes at the use of The Lovin' Spoonful song "Do You Believe In Magic" over a montage of Manhattan sights reflecting in a car window, behind which are the wide eyes of two excited little girls (sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) and their the desperate but hopeful parents (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton).
Remembering that sweet, philosophical 11-year-old Christy (Sarah Bolger) is curious about everything in her new world helps you understand why Sheridan makes her dangerous neighborhood of transvestites, addicts and prostitutes feel more like a non-threatening carnival of curios to be collected through her omnipresent camcorder.
"In America" is a rose-colored sepia toning of the family's hard-knocked life in a rat-infested flat, in a derelict apartment building with a broken lift and a scary neighbor with a predilection for primal screams. But the film has the warmth of the director's passion, and its innocent perspective comes courtesy of a reliable source -- the screenplay was co-written by Sheridan's own now-grown daughters, Naomi and Kristen.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Bolger girls are melodious, magnetic, natural actresses who endear themselves to a viewer so quickly and completely that you may find that questioning their ingenuous outlook on the world comes largely from worrying about their survival in it.
The director offers up many subconscious reminders of the movie's point-of-view (low-angle cinematography, often finding yourself shuffled off to an ice cream shop when tension (or desire) strikes the parents. But underlying problems are always present, and Sheridan fuels the film's emotional life with the family's struggles, not the least of which is that all of them are heartbreakingly haunted, to varying degrees, by an unspoken void left by the accidental death of the girls' brother -- an event that takes place before this story but casts a long shadow.
Paddy Considine ("Last Resort," "A Room for Romeo Brass") brings an absorbing rawness to the careworn father, who does everything he can to hide how dead his soul has felt since losing his son. The spellbinding yet subtle Samantha Morton ("Morvern Callar," "Minority Report," "Sweet & Lowdown") brings a unique weight and dimension to her character that is rarely seen in movie moms -- a true sense of how motherhood is a part of every breath she takes, even when she's struck with bouts of melancholy. Interestingly, it's these two -- not the children -- who are the key to remembering that Sheridan shows us a sanguine version of hardship, because as good parents they do all they can not to burden their daughters with real-world plight.
But the movie's most pivotal role goes to Djimon Hounsou ("Amistad," "Gladiator"), who demonstrates his under-appreciated range as the bellowing neighbor, a terminally ill African immigrant and volatile surrealist painter who begins the film as a boogieman figure but soon becomes the girls' best friend and the family's guardian angel.
Their many dilemmas are wrapped up in a far too neat and overly symbolic package as Sheridan draws his story to a close. But "In America" is after all a fable -- and one that packs an emotional wallop in its watershed finale. With one more self-reminder that the movie is from the perspective of an astute but sheltered child, even the last reel's lucky contrivance of alleviation and heartwarming optimism makes a certain kind of sense.
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