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:: In America

When director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) arrived as an immigrant in America, during New York’s sweltering summer, he dragged an old, rusted air conditioner, the size of a minibar, across Manhattan up four, five flights of stairs to the top of the run-down apartment, where he lived with his wife and two young daughters. The hardship of then struggling actor doing his best to support his young family is evident. “In America” is a semi-autobiographical story of Sheridan’s life, as seen through the eyes of his daughters.

It is a kind of film that will cause a lump in your throat because we can identify with loss, grief, love, friendship and being dead broke, well most of us, anyway.

Irish actor, Johnny (Paddy Considine), and wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton) have come to New York via Canada posing as tourists, to escape their bereavement of their young son, Frankie, and start anew. Their two daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger), while affected by the loss of their brother, are able to see the promise of this new beginning. For them, Manhattan and their junkie-infested apartment block is an enchanted place, a magical wonderland where dreams can come true.

Their childlike innocence and spontaneity seem out of place with their seedy and dangerous tenement. You fear for their safety when during Halloween, the girls go trick-or-treating. They blithely ignore the words “Keep out” on a door and repeatedly bang on it but thanks to their fearlessness, they befriend the “Screaming Man”, Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), who becomes a godfather to them and a family friend. Hounsou, with his solid frame, is impressive as the mysterious but spiritual artist who lives below them.

For Johnny and Sarah, the prospect of getting professional employment as illegal immigrants is bleak. Sarah, a teacher, supports the family by becoming a waitress, while Johnny doggedly attends every audition available, getting more despondent each time he loses out on a role. The truth is, Johnny is emotionally numbed by the death of Frankie that he can barely act or be the affectionate father and husband that he is. In a raw and moving scene, Ariel tells Johnny that he is no longer the father she used to know.

While Considine and Morton are outstanding in their performances, delving into a range of emotions with just enough restraint from making their characters mawkish, the stars of the film belong to the Bolger sisters, eleven-year-old Sarah and seven-year-old Emma. Their naturalistic acting gives the film its ‘realness’ and humour. Sheridan and his daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, have written an uplifting and deeply affecting film.