The Irish are noted for their storytelling abilities. Some of the tales may have a fanciful edge
to them, but they are always enjoyable. Frank McCourt earned acclaim for his memoirs Angela's
Ashes and 'Tis and not to be outdone, his brother Malachy wrote his own book. Jim Sheridan made
his name as the director of acclaimed films that resonated with the public despite their seemingly grim
stories (MY LEFT FOOT, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER).
Sheridan's brother Peter documented the family's struggles in a terrific memoir (44, Dublin
Made Me). Once Sheridan's leading man of choice Daniel Day-Lewis went into semi-retirement,
though, the filmmaker seemed at a loss. It's been years since he directed a new movie, but happily
he's returned with a winner.
Like some movie makers, Sheridan didn't start off with an autobiographical tale. Instead, he
honed his abilities behind the camera as producer and director before finally turning inward. Collaborating
on the screenplay with two of his daughters, Kristen and Naomi, Sheridan looked back some twenty
years to when he and his family moved to the Hell's Kitchen area in New York City in search of the
The film opens with the Sullivan family heading from Canada into the USA. Once they negotiate
their way through the border crossing, the Sullivans arrive in Manhattan as the Lovin' Spoonful's rendition
of "Do You Believe in Magic?" plays on the soundtrack. Not only does the song capture the inchoate
feelings of a first visit to one of the world's great cities, it also announces a major theme of the film. One
needs to believe in magic in order to accept some of the more fanciful aspects of the film. Some of it is
subliminal (the recurring use of Spielberg's E.T., THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL), some a bit clunky (the
ice cream parlor where the mother lands work is called Heaven), and some is spot on (I cannot reveal this
without spoiling the plot, so you'll just have to trust me.)
Sheridan has cast the roles of the Sullivan family brilliantly. Real-life sisters Sarah and Emma
Bolger portray the daughters modeled on the screenwriters. This a stroke of genius in that their
interplay crackles with reality. They are playing fictional characters, but the sisterly bond is evident
and both girls offer unpretentious and natural performances, eschewing the cloying or cutesy qualities
found in many child actors.
The parents are embodied by Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton and both deliver excellent
performances. Considine captures the bravado of a man struggling to make ends meet yet there's also
pure joy in his interaction with his wife and daughters. Morton is radiant as the patient and supportive wife.
There are a few minor quibbles. Several anachronisms are glaring: when the family arrives in
New York City, there are buildings and billboards that weren't there in 1982. The eldest daughter is
almost never without her camcorder (which includes footage of a younger brother who died), even though
camcorders were not manufactured at that time. There's also the matter of the supporting character of
the neighbor Mateo (Dijmon Honsou), a painter afflicted with an unnamed terminal disease (clearly AIDS),
and who is as much a "noble savage" as a deus ex machina. While there may indeed have been such a
man in Sheridan's life, the character doesn't quite come to life despite the actor’s best efforts.
Still, this is clearly a personal work for the director and, as such, by its finale IN AMERICA transcends
its flaws to leave the audience actually believing in magic.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief violence and language
Running time: 105 mins.
Viewed at Fox Screening Room.
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.