Monday, March 23, 2009

3/19/09: In America (2002)

Like pretty much every American, I worry about making enough money, keeping my loved ones safe, having enough food to eat and a million other little things. Watching In America, the acclaimed film about an Irish family that illegally emigrates to the USA, I kept thinking, "Great, now I have to worry about these people too."

In director Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical film, Johnny and Sarah Sullivan move their two young daughters, Christie and Ariel, into a Manhattan tenement occupied chiefly by drug addicts and transvestites (but nary a rat nor cockroach to be seen—it's the Disney version of a flophouse). We see most of the action from the point of view of Christie, who dutifully records the family's experiences with her beloved camcorder. Living in virtual poverty, Dad drives a taxi and Mom works at a local ice-cream parlor as they struggle to make ends meet. But the biggest problem dogging this family is the ever-present spectre of Frankie, the couple's dead son. Everybody is still in mourning, but the loss has all but immobilized Johnny emotionally. At length, the family befriends a fellow tenant, a mysterious Nigerian artist named Mateo Kuamey (Djimon Hounsou), who is dying of AIDS. Then Sarah announces she's pregnant, and the baby is born prematurely and in need of an expensive blood transfusion they can't possibly afford. (Confoundingly, nobody at the hospital ever asks Johnny for proof of insurance.) Also, it's swelteringly hot in New York. In case you hadn't noticed, this is not a comedy.

Despite all their woes, the Sullivans try to keep it together as best they can, largely for the sake of the two surviving kids—and more adorable children I've never seen in a motion picture. Narrated by Christie (Sarah Bolger) with heartbreaking earnestness, In America is mostly a downer, but contains just enough sentimentality and poignancy to keep it from being fatally depressing. Long before I ever concocted the "one movie a day" idea, Connie suggested that I move this to the top of my list of movies to see. Knowing how much I love films that elicit a strong emotional reaction, she might be surprised that I didn't rate this one higher; despite numerous effective scenes, what prevented me from liking it more were Paddy Considine as brooding Johnny and Samantha Morton as the nearly bald Sarah—Mr. Hard to Connect With and Ms. Hard to Look At. Rating: 3/5.

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