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Directed by
Jim Sheridan
Rated G

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

In America

Synopsis: After the death of their son, Frankie, an Irish family, Johnny ( Paddy Considine), Sarah (Samantha Morton) and their two daughters Christy and Ariel (played by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) emigrate to the USA and attempt to repair their shattered lives. Renting rooms in a run-down tenement on the seedy side of town they all pull together to start again. The family’s threat of destruction is not from their decrepit surroundings with druggies, prostitutes and the like, but from within: their sorrow and denial. Their mysterious neighbour Mateo (Djimon Hounsou)soon befriends them and becomes part of the key to the entire family’s redemption and healing.

With its blend of deep sadness and its themes of love, loss and renewal, combined with odd humorous moments, In America is a deeply affecting film. Director Jim Sheridan draws upon his own experience and, with the help of his own daughters’ input, authenticity is achieved. As Sheridan observed, writing so close to one’s own life can be scary, and as his script developed he saw the child-like qualities of Christy and Ariel to be one of the linch-pins of the film.

An atmosphere of ‘magical realism’ is set up from the outset: the beautiful opening scenes of the prismatic lights of New York with Christy’s voice-over talking of three wishes, and how some wishes should never be made. Very quickly an amazing amount of back-story is conveyed before the delights of New York envelop their lives. Ariel and Christy cannot help but see things in a positive light and this, in stark contrast to their parents’ emotional struggles, gives the film a dazzling charm.

The two Bolger sisters give knock-out performances as seldom seen by young actors. In fact the three main adult characters also are so powerfully portrayed that as an audience we find ourselves engrossed in the fate of all these people. Paddy Considine brings a brooding melancholia and intensity to the role of Johnny. Samantha Morton is incandescent, with a rare quality which is at once vibrant and yet so full of sadness. Djimon Hounsou almost leaps off the screen with the power he brings to the complex character of Mattheo. Some of the film’s most poignant moments are carried by him, especially in several scenes with the little girls.

As far as poignancy goes, this film is full of heart-in-your-throat moments, without ever descending into sentimentality. When resolution comes it is in such a way that seamlessly blends many of the near mystical incidents and leaves us yearningly aware of the eternal bittersweet nature of life.




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