In America

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/25/04 15:38:06

"In the end, it kicked and dragged me into believing in magic (sort of)."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Co-written with his daughters Naomi and Kristin, Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical depiction of their emigration to the U.S. from Ireland has a lot going for it. Seen through the eye of camera wizard Declan Quinn and the eyes of a 10-year old emerging from the Holland Tunnel for the first time, Manhattan is resplendent in her glory. The cast, and acting, is likewise splendid, featuring the ethereally beautiful Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine (24 Hour Party People) as grieving parents looking to make a new start with their daughters (real life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger), and Djimon Hounsou as the neighbor who brings magic to their lives. Unfortunately, it is in that "magic" that the movie falters.

On first viewing, I heavily criticized Kristin and Naomi's romanticized depiction of life in a tenement in Harlem, with neighborly crack addicts and transvestites greeting them upon arrival and an ice cream parlor waitress as built-in babysitter. Watching the film again, and trying to see the experience through the eyes of children, it was much easier for me to appreciate their whimsy and ability to make a game of living in such a squalid environment.

Still, there are definite weaknesses in the script, which sports plot holes that, depending upon one's tolerance, can be waved off as A Bit o' the Blarney or condemned as Total Bullshit.

Hounsou is marvelous, and heartbreaking, as their neighbor Mateo, an angry artist dying of AIDS, but he is sadly relegated to an unbelievable subplot straight out of The Shining. It is at the core of this subplot's mysticism that the biggest weaknesses in the screenplay lie.

For all its faults, though, it's impossible to not be won over by the three glorious seasons of NYC (summer being the not-so-glorious one), a loving family beautifully portrayed (with particularly rapturous turns by Samantha Morton and the Bolger sisters) under Jim Sheridan's fine direction, AND a wicked-good soundtrack.

In the end, I'd deem In America well worth a look, but I still wish someone could answer the one burning question it leaves in my mind.

WARNING: Major spoiler ahead

What the HELL is a guy who can pay a $30,000+ hospital bill in cash, and who meets his death in obviously comfortable hospice care, doing living in a rathole in Harlem?

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