Written and directed by Jim Sheridan, and based on his own experiences as an Irish immigrant in America, the film chronicles the first year struggles and triumphs of an Irish couple, and their two young daughters. Johnny (Paddy Considine) is out of work and while he struggles to find parts as an actor, his wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) must take a job at a nearby ice cream parlor until she finds employment as a teacher. They must scrounge every penny and sell their car, to pay the rent on their shabby, rundown apartment in a building inhabited mostly by vagrants.
Johnny and Sarah are also struggling with the recent death of their youngest child, Frankie. It's presumed that their move to America was meant as an escape to the tragedy back in Ireland; yet, even with the change in scenery, neither parent is completely able to shake their overwhelming feelings of guilt. Looking for a means to end the pain, Sarah gets pregnant, and the family meets a neighbor - a Nigerian painter named Mateo (Djimon Hounsou). With no one else to play with, the girls Christy and Ariel (Emma and Sarah Bolger) instantly bond with the gentle giant, and soon the trio is painting and playing throughout the building.
Their friendship with Mateo and the baby inside Sarah's womb continue to grow. Complications with both will arise that furthers the bond between Mateo and the family. They will ultimately be joined together in a final journey of tragedy and triumph that will leave many in tears. I won't give anything away, but as my guest pointed out after the film, certain parts reminded her of themes found in The Green Mile.
In America paints such a strikingly realistic portrait of the struggles this family faces that it could easily represent numerous others with similar circumstances. And though many of us do not share the same life experiences, we easily identify with their strife because the performances by all the central characters feel incredibly real. What's more, Sheridan's masterpiece is told from the perspective of the two young girls - the eldest only ten years old. For children their age, their big brown eyes are remarkably insightful and observant.
Many times films with tender themes such as those raised here overdose on sentimentality to the point where we feel manipulated into emotion. Even though America tugs tightly on our heartstrings, never does it feel like we're thrown into artificial situations where the only way out is to cry. Every scene feels just as genuine as the next, and every situation this young family finds themselves in has purpose and meaning beyond the present.
The only complaint I have is that at times, the film feels longer than its 113-minute running time. Yet, it is a minor complaint in what looks and feels as authentic as a film can get. In the end, In America will have many believing in a little bit of magic.
The DVD includes a large number of deleted scenes, commentary from Sheridan, and a making-of featurette.
In America, we like hot dogs.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 31st October 2003
Box Office USA: $15.3M
Budget: $15 thousand
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 154 Rotten: 19
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Jim Sheridan