We all know that the U.S.A. is a nation of immigrants. But, think about it, unless we’re of Native American ancestry or descended from refugees, nearly all of us yanks are related to some nut, or group of nuts, who decided to drop everything to go to a place where they had no idea how to survive, based only a vague impression that the odds of success might be better here.
And they don’t come much nuttier than Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton). Johnny’s an out-of-work actor; Sarah’s a teacher with no U.S. credentials. Nevertheless, they leave their native Ireland and enter the States through the Canadian border posing as tourists. Partly they come here seeking stardom on the New York stage for Johnny, partly they’re fleeing the fall-out of a recent family tragedy: the death of their young son.
The whole thing would be risky enough if it were just the two of them, but Johnny and Sarah are still the parents of the charming and arguably far saner Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger). Catholicism is one of many issues in the marriage, and that may have something to do with the fact that Sarah is shortly to become pregnant for a fourth time. She will insist on carrying that baby to term, despite the fact that it puts her own life at risk.
Transforming their Hell’s Kitchen super-fixer-upper into an artsy little junkie-adjacent hideaway, they make several new friends, mostly of the colorful variety. The most important of these is Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), an ailing artist from Africa. In the movies, people from Africa are sometimes crazy, afflicted people are usually crazy, and artists are always crazy. So, Mateo fits right in.
Still, audiences have a soft spot for lovable eccentrics and this critic has a definite soft-spot for AIn America, the latest from Irish-American writer-director Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot”, “In the Name of the Father”). Sheridan’s newest has the feel of a family project, written with daughters Naomi and Kirsten, and contains several incidents from the Sheridans’ own life. It’s an often glorious child’s eye view of a new city in a new country. When it’s working, it’s a humorous, gorgeous and heartfelt tribute to family and to the wonders and dangers of Manhattan. When it’s not, it’s merely a lot of Gaelic-flavored histrionics.
Actually, it’s the images that most enliven “In America”. Cinematographer Declan Quinn delivers some of the most seductive views of New York since Gordon Willis’ black and white, amazingly clean city in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”. But the grittier setting allows Quinn to do Willis one better, freeing him to show the island of Manhattan the way most people experience it. A bit dangerous, often uncomfortable, full of distraction and a thousand brilliant hues. It’s the rare movie that actually needs to be in color.
If New York is the real star of “In America”, the movie is nevertheless stolen by the two real-life sisters who portray young Christy and Ariel. Sarah Bolger carries the daunting task of narrating the film and acting as the stand-in for the audience with the kind of authority that few actors attain in adulthood. As the younger Ariel, Emma Bolger is adorably prickly. They’re both naturals.
Still, it’s not all perfection. While the three grown-up leads are all outstanding performers, the screenplay forces them into a lot of shouting about life and death and their feelings about same that for the most part doesn’t really comes across as anything more than good actors practicing the art of acting.
Nevertheless, “In America” contains enough magic and sincerity to cover the proverbial multitude of cinematic sins. And, better yet, for all the Irishness, it contains not a single alcoholic and not one barroom brawl!
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