Monday, May 23, 2011

#290. In America (2003)

Directed By: Jim Sheridan

Starring: Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou

Trivia:  Samantha Morton, who plays Sarah, was 25 years old when the movie was filmed. She is only 14 years older than 'Sarah Bolger', who plays eldest daughter, Christy, in the film.

So what is it that keeps director Jim Sheridan’s In America from slipping into the category of a truly sappy melodrama? At first glance, not much. Many of the standard clichés are here: a tragic death, a difficult pregnancy, a terminally ill neighbor, etc., etc. Sounds like a TV movie of the week, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you that if you avoid watching In America because you think you've seen it all before, you’ll only be depriving yourself of a wonderful experience. Jim Sheridan has been called a master storyteller, and In America may just be his crowning achievement. 

Johnny (Paddy Considine), an actor who hopes to make it on Broadway, moves his family, which includes his wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton), and their two daughters Christy and Ariel (played by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger), from Canada to New York City. Along with work, Johnny hopes New York will act as a fresh start, where he'll finally be able to set aside the tragedy of losing his only son, Frankie, who recently died following a fall down some stairs. Making a life in New York isn’t easy for Johnny, who struggles with Frankie’s death on a daily basis, yet he finds the strength to carry on through the love and support of his young family. 

The one thing that saves In America from the lowly fate of becoming “just another melodrama” is its excellent performances. The film was graced with three Academy Award nominations, two of which were for acting (Samantha Morton for Best Actress, and Djimon Hounsou, wjo plays their neighbor, Mateo, for Best Supporting Actor), but as wonderful as Considine, Morton and Hounsou are, the real showstoppers in this movie are the Bolger sisters. These girls shine in every scene they appear in, adding a spark of life to a family suffering incredible hardships. It’s through their eyes that we see the hope for better days ahead, even if those days always seem just a bit out of reach. 

Yet the pivotal character of the entire film is one who never appears on-screen: the deceased son, Frankie. Johnny has never fully recovered from Frankie’s death, and at one point says to Mateo, “The last time I talked with God, I made a deal with him to take me instead of Frankie. Instead, he took us both”. Johnny walks through his days as if he were a ghost, devoid of any feelings, which, as you can imagine, is a definite drawback for a man trying to get a job as an actor! 

By taking all its stereotypical plot lines and molding them around a wonderful small family, In America stands as a shining example of how a standard formula, when injected with warmth and energy, can still seem entirely fresh.

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