In America (2003)

inamerica“In America” has a quality that isn’t seen in movies these days. It’s sappy but in the other hand it’s very genuine to the point where sappy is most welcome, it has a distinctly large knack for being so utterly convincing in its charm, grace and celebration of life. Surely that is what I’d best sum it up as: a celebration of life, and food for the soul and the heart. This is a film a family should watch together as we watch another family cope with what they have and with the cards they’ve been dealt in life. “In America” is the tale of the American dream that no one can grasp showing that the American dream is only that: a dream, a concept, something to reach for, and “In America” tells us that the American dream is something that’s in the eyes of the beholder. In this semi-modern tale, we meet an Irish family who trek to New York under the guise that they’re on vacation when really they’re there to live there.

Penniless they take up home at a tenement inhabited by druggies and invalids and they make their attempts to get by. Told through the eyes of their two beautiful daughters Christy and Ariel (Real sisters, Sarah and Emma Bolger), we witness the trials and tribulations of this family. It’s set in the eighties but we see modern products, a billboard with Jessica Alba’s face, and the daughter Christy has a handheld camera throughout the film, but who cares? This is such a lovely movie, I couldn’t have been happier after watching this than I ever was. This is a film that is so cute and beautiful and never comes off feeling like a pre-cooked Hollywood confection, only that of a purely beautiful portrait while told and narrated by the doey-eyed and utterly adorable two young girls Ariel and Christy and this film continues to pull off yet another feat, the two young girls are never overly-adorable, they’re never over the top and are so utterly beautiful that we care what happens to them, we want to see them succeed through their life to live another day.

Sarah and Emma Bolger are so beautiful and their characters are beautiful. Christy is the more mature but introverted older daughter who looks at the world through her camcorder lens that she holds like a lifeline. Considering the fact her brother Frankie died when they were young, she holds the camcorder and tapes every moment be it big or small because she wields it like her life depends on it and doesn’t want to miss a moment, Ariel is the friendly and charming younger daughter whose smile seems to glow throughout the film and welcomes everyone who is drawn to her. She believes in magic as their first trek into New York dictates. The two girls gaze in astonishment at the sights of Times Square while Loving Spoonful’s “Do you Believe in Magic” plays on their radio; we’re seeing the world through a child’s eyes and it’s ever so beautiful. The two know what they want, they know how to approach life and they’re wise beyond their years, and in a sense keep their parents Johnny and Sarah together.

As a guy whose lived through and survived poverty and squalor this resonated with me in ways you the reader cannot fathom, and in a lot of ways it’s a story of hope that though life deals hardships, it can be accomplished and conquered through the little things in life. The two parents played by the engrossing Samantha Morton (nominated for best actress) and the under rated, dare I say, overlooked Paddy Considine are experiencing their own woes. They refuse to let go of their son’s spirit because they want him back, they need him back. It seems as if clinging to his memory is their lifeline and Christy doesn’t pray to god, she prays to Frankie and wishes things from him. The parents have intimacy troubles and despite their obvious love for one another cannot get past Frankie’s spirit. They are so good to watch together because Morton displays a vulnerability that’s rare to watch, she’s likable and utterly charming despite her unwillingness to let go of her son’s memory and Paddy Considine is so good here (it’s a shame he was snubbed) because he’s a man who refuses to believe in the magic in life.

He doesn’t want to humor his daughters into believe Frankie is in heaven, he refuses to pray despite their daughters begging him to, and holds on with every bit of strength he can, and his daughters know he doesn’t believe in life but they persist. Through these incredible characters we watch them try to get by through deeds that just warped me back to my impoverished childhood. We watch them suffering through the unbearable heat and their new word “humidity”, Johnny treks through New York on foot (they sell their car for rent money) and lugs an antiquated air conditioner through screaming New Yorkers, he carries it up the steps by himself sweating and suffering and when he finally gets it home– well, I’ll let you find out what happens next, but like any good father he suffers for his children. They suffer through embarrassment of being poor, and take a friend from their neighbor Mateo (Djimon Hounsou in an inspiring performance, was nominated for best supporting actor) whom they call “The Screaming Man”, a suffering artist who takes a liking to the young girls (who wouldn’t?) and befriends the family and in a way they form a symbiosis. They give him a family and help him through his life, and he gives them friendship, something they sorely need.

Through that, they have their suffering as any family would and there are some beautiful scenes in the film that will keep you in tears (Christy performing “Desperado”), my favorite being the carnival scene where Johnny attempts to win an ET doll for Ariel. He puts up all their money for the doll, not because of the doll but because it’s a personal accomplishment for him and his family, it’s the small things that make them winners. Ultimately, this becomes a beautiful portrait of life and what it can have in store for average people, and I loved it, and I suggest you watch it.  Though so good, there is also a sense of a fairy tale mood that never really made this picture perfect. They’re penniless, yet somehow they manage to stumble onto a building with druggies that isn’t run down, and they stumble onto a humongous, albeit condemned, apartment that has an incredible view of New York, and has a high roof that they, seemingly dont pay a lot for.

There’s no landlord, no one attempting to break into the apartment, and the girls room is surprisingly in great condition with bunkbeds no doubt. It felt almost too outlandish to believe. Call me cynical, but I had a bit of a difficult time swallowing certain plot developments seeing as I’ve witnessed poverty-stricken families have to share small rooms. As well, there were certain scenes here that I felt was just reaching for drama including Johnny’s inevitable robbery, Sarah’s performance, and a lot of the girls’ outbursts that sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense, including Emma’s outburst after a bad nightmare. It’s sappy, reaches for drama, and is a bit far-fetched, but this is such a lovely film I couldn’t help but flip over it. With gripping drama, a beautiful story, and top notch acting from Morton, Considine, Hounsou and exceptional performances from the Bolger sisters, this is such a treat.