In America

In America is probably one of the most sentimental, emotional films in recent memory. It is such a strong work of art because it is able to delve consistently into these emotions without coming off as melodramatic and forced. This is mostly because the film is a semi-autobiographical account of the life of writer/director Jim Sheridan (The Boxer, In the Name of the Father). As a project, he asked his two daughters, Naomi and Kristen (Patterns, The Bench) to come up with stories from their childhood. The three of them collaborated on the script, and incorporated the death of Sheridan's brother to form the story of a broken Irish family illegally immigrating into the United States via Canada. The story is told from the perspective of the daughters, giving In America a unique perspective. They see everything with a new sense of wonder and innocence.

Johnny (Paddy Considine, Doctor Sleep, 24 Hour Party People) is a struggling actor who cannot seem to land a gig. His wife Sarah (Minority Report, Morvern Callar) takes a job in an ice cream parlor so that he can spend time memorizing lines and auditioning. The only place they were able to find (and afford) is a run-down apartment in a nasty section of Hell's Kitchen, populated with drug dealers, junkies, and hookers. Their daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger, A Love Divided) and Ariel (Emma Bolger) attend Catholic school and are slowly adjusting to life in America. Their lack of money is not the biggest problem. Johnny and Sarah's son Frankie, died a short while ago, and both are still reeling at the loss. Johnny in particular has yet to achieve any sense of closure. He shut himself down emotionally, which is beginning to cause friction in his relationship with Sarah and their children.

Above all, it is the performances that provide the strength behind the film, and it is the amazingly cute Bolger sisters that provide the deepest emotional impact. The fact that they are real-life sisters may have helped them, since they do have a good rapport on screen. They act like actual little girls, especially Emma. She is bright-eyed, inquisitive, and trusting of all around her. In a sense, she is the future that the family came to America to find. The Christy character, while not as 'cute,' is much deeper. Frankie's death affected her deeply too, and she is withdrawn, quiet. It is a strong performance from somebody so young, who feels forced to carry more than someone her age ever should. Considine is an actor playing an actor who cannot act. He gives an interesting take on an emotionally barren soul. Johnny admits that he cannot feel, and knows that it is affecting his family, but does not know what he can do about it.

As In America progresses, things get more emotional. Sarah becomes pregnant, and carrying the baby to term may threaten her life, causing a wrenching conflict for Johnny. He does not want Sarah to die and leave their children without a mother, but Sarah desperately wants another child. They also meet Mateo (Djimon Hounsou, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Biker Boyz), an artist who also lives in their building. He is angry at the world, and dying of AIDS. His interaction with the family affects both sides deeply. It gives him a renewed sense of why life is important and beautiful, and reminds the family how precious it can be. It sounds really corny, and is fairly predictable, but the Sheridan's manage to pull it off. The result is delicate, and the emotionally slowly builds until it reaches a satisfying crescendo.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief violence, and language.

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