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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.62%
Worth A Look42.31%
Average: 17.95%
Pretty Bad: 3.85%
Total Crap: 1.28%

6 reviews, 42 user ratings

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In America
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by Erik Childress

"Laughable or Tear-Inducing?"
3 stars

In America represents one of the most perplexing experiences I’ve had at the cinema all year. Watching the film is like a lithmus test for audience manipulation with a cornucopia of TV movie-of-the-week plots. There’s a poor immigrant family, a dead child, a slum apartment, disease and a noble black man. The unease I felt had less to do with its clichés but to how we’re expected to root for what may be the two most irresponsible parents this side of Mommie Dearest and The Great Santini. Still, there are scenes of emotional power so potent that it just tips the scale into the “love conquers all” argument.

Leaving Ireland in hopes of starting anew in America after the tragic loss of their two-year old son, Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) move their young daughters, Christy and Ariel (real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) to a slum apartment in New York. I don’t know if post-9/11 NY is the best place for kicking up your spirits, but the film’s time period is already a bit confused. If it IS supposed to be the early 80s as some have suggested, then what’s with the modern montage of Times Square with the Jessica Alba billboard? Don’t forget,E.T. WAS in theaters in 2002. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em, and I digress.

Daddy’s a struggling actor. Mom will get a job in an ice cream parlor. They may not have much money, but thankfully live amongst the nicest transvestites and drug addicts in the Big Apple. The eldest Christy narrates their plight for us and documents everything with her hand-held camera as Dad does whatever he can to make the transition easier. He certainly loves his daughters but with his emotional switches on permanent hold, method acting is quite the stretch. In the land of theatre, it’s somewhat perplexing that the only auditions he can find are for Shakespearean productions. Of course, it’s more of a metaphorical gesture (like inspiring your family with E.T.) than realism.

In America exists on that plane though, in-between the harshness of reality and outright miracles where if you help the homeless, they’ll reward you with food stamps. Downstairs from them lives the hulking, tortured artist Mateo (Djimon Hounsou) who yells and crashes through his apartment until he lays eyes on the little girls and his gentle humanity comes to the forefront. Hounsou is great in the role even if it’s another noble minority with something to teach us all. Of course we’d never have learned anything if mommy and daddy hadn’t sent their two children through the rundown building alone to trick-and-treat and knock on stranger’s doors.

This behavior is a recurring irresponsibility that clouds up the film’s good intentions. We never doubt Johnny and Sarah’s love for their children and it’s nice to not again have to spend time with a pair of worry warts for a change, but consider the following actions.

Other than the most potentially disasterous Halloween evening since the new Shamrock masks from Season of the Witch, mom and dad also send Christy and Ariel off alone in a late thunderstorm for ice cream so they can have sex. Sarah gets herself pregnant, piling on the bills, despite doctors telling her that its counterproductive to her health. All this on top of already losing one child thanks to lack of keeping an eye.

Director Jim Sheridan, in a semi-autobiographical tale, somehow manages to pull us back in through moments so touching that it leaves you wondering “how the hell did THAT happen to me?” One particular scene involving a parlor game to appease his child cultivates both how careless Johnny is and how far he is willing to go for her happiness. I defy anyone to name a more gut-wrenching moment this year. All the rash decisions and clueless behavior on the part of the parents combined with the fantasyland of its resolutions (Mateo’s final action is a convenient doozy) somehow manage to disappear in a moment of perfect clarity that blindsides us much the same way it does Johnny. I didn’t know how I entirely felt about the film before this point and I found myself on the verge of waterworks.

Earlier this year I wrote how the Irish love a good martyr (see: Veronica Guerin) and that the actions of one can be emphasized into a grand gesture that overcomes the surrounding events. Maybe it’s unfair to criticize parental actions in a film that aspires for a Capra-esque universe albeit one that uses reality as some kind of transparent wallpaper. There’s a hokeyness that’s hard to escape yet one that creates an emotional current that in the end is impossible to ignore. It’s poignant finale is thanks in large part to the amazing work of Sarah Bolger, giving one of the best child performances ever in a year already filled with such striking turns from Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Jenna Boyd (The Missing). Somewhere, parents are doing their job. Now if we can just keep them from sending their kids to Cat in the Hat and to more movies like this.

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originally posted: 11/26/03 17:02:29
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This film is available for download or online viewing at For more in the series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
10/01/08 Annie G Enjoyable movie that puts a different face on illegal immigrants. 3 stars
9/10/07 louciljohann very touching....heart-warming 4 stars
3/29/06 steve castleberry This is a good movie- The only one I`ve ever felt like rating. 5 stars
6/13/05 Steve Newman Awesome - go see 5 stars
5/27/05 Brendan An absolute classic. One of my Top 5! 5 stars
5/25/05 Diana R I thought this movie was great 5 stars
3/09/05 axefell resiliency of the eager-eyed optimist on display 4 stars
8/08/04 Mike McGilvray A touching, sad film well worth my time. 5 stars
7/18/04 scrambled brain it irritated me to no end 2 stars
7/06/04 Joan Cagney Very moving film - struck at my Irish American heritage 4 stars
6/21/04 Joli Darling Jim Sheridan's search for that which is authentic was more than realized in this film. 5 stars
6/01/04 maggie cloying-sacharine--annoying children 2 stars
5/21/04 Gretchen Ross wonderful, simplistic film that portrays the fragility and beauty of innocence 5 stars
5/18/04 Mike Excellent Film 4 stars
5/07/04 Megan It was totally amazing- it touched my heart and Emma and Sarah Bolger are amazing actress'! 5 stars
3/09/04 mouhamadou aw i need to watch a film online 3 stars
3/06/04 Jaco Visser Both character and moviegoer grow together in this master artwork. 5 stars
3/06/04 Helen Bradley A really bad film poor script and lousy acting 1 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times free of stereo types. deals with the working class honestly. great film. 5 stars
2/20/04 john lovely, great cinematography, acting, goings-on etc. 5 stars
2/07/04 Valerie Cameron 2 Oscar nominations for grownups, but the little girls are the real stars. 4 stars
1/15/04 Kate Wonderful, but anxiety-inducing. I found myself waiting for harm around every corner. 5 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Really great Sheridan drama; Morton is outstanding as the mother. 5 stars
1/13/04 skysusan Great film; worth seeing 5 stars
1/10/04 CharlieDams Haunting, unforgettable. Excellent, believable acting. Photography, sets very good 5 stars
1/05/04 Lewis Menacing Black neighbor, a teddy bear in disguise, pays Irish family's big medical bill 2 stars
12/31/03 ownerofdajoint this movie works well on several levels;don't miss it 5 stars
12/28/03 Eleanor Finally, a functionaling family with all the love, and grief, honesty and trust that we lo 5 stars
12/17/03 Gus Touching movie 5 stars
12/10/03 hans lovely, moving film. Sarah Bolger is brilliant 5 stars
12/01/03 elizabeth beautiful film, oscar worthy in the vein of "My Left Foot" or "In The Name of the Father" 5 stars
11/29/03 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. Personal and touching. Pieces don't quite fit perfectly, but close enough. 4 stars
11/22/03 Law Surprising, moving, compelling - great acting 5 stars
11/19/03 Esther Fabulous! Stunning performances and great music! 5 stars
11/16/03 Hal Underwood A great movie - I knew nothing about it before seeing it. 5 stars
11/07/03 Tony Hocking Thought provoking, with a fantastic debut from the little girls. 5 stars
10/27/03 Norm Engel Absolutely marvellous film. Wonderful acting from the lead characters, touches your hear 5 stars
10/24/03 julie dupree beautiful film 5 stars
10/24/03 Dick Briglia Wonderful Surprising Movie 4 stars
10/21/03 Brad Willard Loved this film 5 stars
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  26-Nov-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-May-2004



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