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In America
cast: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, and Djimon Hounsou

director: Jim Sheridan

101 minutes (15) 2003 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
In America is a semi-autobiographical piece co-written by Jim Sheridan and his two daughters Naomi and Kirsten, telling the story of a migrant Irish family's arrival in New York in the early 1980s in search of a new life. The family, consisting of Johnny (Paddy Considine), Sarah (Samantha Morton) and their two daughters Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger), move into a rundown apartment block where, amongst all the bums and junkies, they meet the mysterious Matteo (Djimou Hounsou). At first, he seems like a forbidding, even sinister figure, lurking behind a door with the warning 'Keep Out' crudely daubed on it. On Halloween, a trick or treat expedition by the two girls forces Matteo to break cover, and becomes clear that he is not a well man.
   The family have their own problems too, the most immediate one being that they are broke. Johnny is an aspiring actor, and Sarah is forced to abandon her teaching career in order to support the family with a low-paid catering job, while he fruitlessly attends a uditions. All this is further complicated by the fact that the couple have not fully resolved their grief at the loss of their third child Frankie. Seeking to replace him, Sarah gets pregnant again, and when the pregnancy develops possibly fatal complications, she refuses to consider a termination. Johnny is in a state of denial, leading him to outbursts of rage, and is getting deeper and deeper into debt with the hospital, struggling to raise the money for Sarah's treatment and that of their prematurely born new baby, with his job as a cab driver.
   In America's treatment of its subject matter borders on the mawkish. That it avoids falling over the edge of this precipice entirely is down to the acting, the direction and possibly the fact that it derives from the Sheridan family's own experiences. This initial impression is confirmed by perusal of the DVD's making-of featurette, subtitled A Personal Journey. The eldest of the two girls, Christy, complains that she has been carrying the family, taking care of both her younger sister Ariel and her dysfunctional parents, and this is also true of the young actress Sarah Bolger, who in a sense carries the film. She provides a narrative voiceover, and it is largely through her eyes and camcorder that the events of the film are viewed. She is well supported in this role by her real life sister Emma, who is no mere 'cute' child actor, but shows remarkable maturity in her acting, for instance in the scene where she wakes up screaming and refuses to recognise that Johnny is her father.
   This is not to detract from the adult actors. Although Samantha Morton seems less assured than in Morvern Callar, and is to begin with relegated to a largely silent secondary role, she shows power and restraint when portraying Sarah's breakdown during her pregnancy. As Johnny, Paddy Considine effectively plays a man with anger management issues. His manic attempts to keep the family afloat and further his acting career provide many comical and touching moments, such as the saga of the air-conditioning unit he drags through the New York traffic and up the stairs to their apartment, only to find that it has the wrong plug. When he finally manages to raise the money for an adaptor, it fuses the entire apartment building. Another such scene is when Johnny bundles a stockbroker out of his cab, who has been boring him for hours with his attempts to style himself as a white rapper.
   The camerawork is striking and stylish too, particularly in the opening shots, and the ensuing scenes where the lights and din of New York are seen through the eyes of the children. Where the film falls down for me is in the introduction of Matteo, whose role as a mystical deus ex machina, who steps in to solve the family's financial and emotional problems, seems a bit contrived and convenient. Some of the scenes, such as the one inter-cutting Johnny and Sarah's frantic love-making with his brooding and screaming solitude, seem pretentious, as though the director were trying to make the thinking person's weepie. This aside however, the overall result is a fairly undemanding fairy tale of New York.
   The DVD extras include some deleted scenes, which like the film can be watched with or without Jim Sheridan's commentary, and the aforementioned making-of featurette, which is more an exercise in self-congratulation than an informative documentary, but that's not unusual for such material.

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