September 3, 2014

filmsgraded.com:
In America (2002)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Jim Sheridan
Stars: Sarah and Emma Bolger, Paddy Considine

What it's about. Another Irish heritage drama from director and co-writer Jim Sheridan, this one sans Daniel Day-Lewis. A poor Irish family immigrate to New York City and move into a dire tenement building. The family includes Johnny (Paddy Considine), a failed actor; his underfed and close-shaved wife Sarah (Samantha Morton); and their two adorable and inseparable pre-teen daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger).

Among their neighbors is Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), a presumably dangerous male African painter who never seems to leave his apartment or have visitors. But the two charming daughters soon win him over, and he becomes a friend of the family, just in time for his health to deteriorate.

Meanwhile, Johnny wins an E.T. doll at the carny, and Sarah becomes pregnant with the lives of both the mother and fetus in peril. She runs up quite a bill at the hospital, which the unemployed Johnny cannot pay.

Christy is tapped to provide blood for the newborn, because apparently there is none to be had in New York City. Not to worry, it's a happy ending for everyone, except for Mateo, who finally dies of his mysterious and progressive illness.

How others will see it. Jim Sheridan pulled out all the stops to make the audience cry. Many, in fact, were moved. The American Film Institute named it Movie of the Year and described it as "a spellbinding fable that captures the modern day immigrant experience." It landed three Oscar nominations, one for the Sheridan family screenplay, and one each for Morton and Hounsou. The box office was disappointing, but the 34K user votes at imdb.com suggests the movie eventually turned a profit.

The imdb user ratings are both high and consistent. The key demographic of women over 45 award the film an 8.0, indicating that they were moved. Message board posts indicate that the few bored to tears, seen it before naysayers are regarded as unfeeling jerks, and certainly in the minority compared to those who reached for their hankie often and gushed about how wonderful the two angelic tykes were.

How I felt about it. I am in the middle, between the select few who felt they were being played, and the vastly greater audience who were grateful to have seen it. The movie begins well, then becomes progressively slower and less interesting, around the time when the two kids attend private school (on what, the mother's tips serving coffee in a slum neighborhood?) and the angry black man next door transforms into the gentle, cool neighbor they always wanted.

As in Sheridan's prior movie as a screenwriter, Into the West, In America has a magical element. But instead of the family pet white horse, it is the older daughter's three wishes from Frankie her dead brother, and the younger daughter's lemon drops. But the greatest magic of all comes from the screenplay, which insures that all five family members will each have a happy ending. Except that Frankie is still dead. Sorry about that.

If the story seems vaguely familiar, it is. It reminds me most of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), which also featured poor Irish-Americans in New York City. A character dies, a baby is born, the precious daughter emotes, and a happy ending occurs. Except that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of the best movies ever made, while In America is better than it should be, yet still not quite good enough.

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