Worth A Look: 42.31%
Pretty Bad: 3.85%
Total Crap: 1.28%
6 reviews, 42 user ratings
by Collin Souter
There exists a danger in bringing angels into a story. One can always run the risk of being too corny, too saccharine, too whimsical or overly symbolic. The existence of angels remains a touchy storyline, not because of any controversy, but because they have been used as a hokey narrative device, an excuse to tell a lame love story and have become a cliché of symbolism. Basically, angels can be the kiss of death for any movie, but if used wisely, as in Jim Sheridan’s “In America,” the angel can be used to add mystery where needed. You don’t even need wings to make the story fly.“In America” does not contain any overt angels, but they appear quite frequently in various forms. In many ways, the family depicted in Sheridan’s film needs the existence of angels in order to properly mourn the loss of their two-year-old baby, Frankie. It might be a subconscious need and it might manifest in different ways, but there exists a lingering soul-sickness within the lives of this family as it tries to start anew.
"The Hands That Built A Classic (almost)"
“In America” begins where many movies about grief end. The Irish family consist of four: Sarah (Samantha Morton), the mother, Johnny (Paddy Considine), the father and their two young daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger). They have fled Ireland in order to start fresh in New York City. Johnny tries to make it as an actor while Sarah tries for a teaching job, but ends up a cashier. The older sister Christy records everything on a camcorder. The kids at school look at Christy and Ariel funny because of their Irish accents and homemade Halloween costumes.
That night, when trick-or-treating for the very first time, Christy and Ariel stumble onto Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), an angry, muscular and deeply troubled loner who paints abstract art in his apartment only to get angry with himself and destroy the painting. We eventually come to learn that Mateo has a very gentle soul. He takes an instant liking to the family and somehow manages to partially fill a void that they try to forget they have. Even Sarah being pregnant again cannot wipe away the profound sense of loss. The arrival of Mateo and the eventual birth bring about more unexpected sadness as the family attempts to fain optimism.
If all this sounds like too much of a downer, let me just say that “In America” has some of the most beautiful, hilarious and uplifting moments of any movie this year. Director Sheridan has thankfully put aside the usual IRA drama that exists in many Irish films (the brilliant “In the Name of the Father” and the not-so-brilliant “The Boxer”) and has settled for something more deeply personal. Throughout “In America,” Sheridan treads on that fine line between heartfelt sentiment and unbearable whimsy, miraculously never falling into the latter. He even manages to pull of a beautiful montage to the song “Desperado,” as sung by daughter Christy.
The movie has also been perfectly cast. Samantha Morton continues to expertly sell every scene in which she exists. One scene has her in a state of drug-induced delirium in which she blames Johnny of being responsible for Frankie’s death. She does not make obvious choices with her performance, but instead chooses to be less showy and more direct, making it all the more frightening. Newcomer Paddy Considine also possesses that same charm and depth that has been making Colin Farrell such an interesting actor to watch (you’d swear it was the same actor in some moments). Djimoun Hounsou has such a strong presence in every movie in which he exists, but I only wish his character had been a little more developed and explored. The two daughters, Emma Bolger and Sarah Bolger, are naturals.
“In America” reminds me a little of last year’s “Moonlight Mile.” Both films explore the complexities of grief after losing a family member, but with a strong sense of humor; both films feature a killer soundtrack; both films could be described as manipulative and flawed; both films serve as a catharsis for the director; both films will leave you in tears in spite of themselves. I walked out of “In America” genuinely pleased, but with a few questions: Did Sarah ever get a teaching gig? Can this family really afford an endless amount of blank videotapes? Why does Johnny drag that air conditioner down the middle of the street? Finally, could Mateo really have been an angel?
I could let these questions bother the hell out of me, but I won’t. The movie simply has too much going for it, not the least of which are a couple biases of mine that I should make clear: First, any movie that uses “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” as an integral part of its storyline can’t be all bad. Second, the movie features an exquisite score composed by two of my favorite Irishmen, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer. Third, I can be quite the emotional sap and I just flat-out fell for this movie hook, line and sinker.“In America” does not come off as a mawkish love letter to America as its title or trailer might suggest. Grieving in America exists in the same manner as grieving in Ireland. Grief follows you and a change of climate will not make it go away, no matter how much one closes themselves off. The trick is to open your eyes wide enough to see the goodness of the people who magically make their way into your lives. Only then can angels truly exist on earth, alien or otherwise.
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originally posted: 10/08/03 11:58:43
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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.