IN AMERICAFAMILY IS EVERYTHING | NOV 21, 2003
In theatres NOV 26, 2003 (Limited Release)
In America is the story of an Irish immigrant family searching to escape their past and start anew in the wonderful land called America. Unable to be approved for direct passage, the family travels to Canada and sneaks across the Canadian/American border under the guise of holiday. Upon reaching New York the family takes up residence in a run down tenement building and hopes that fortune will smile upon them. But America is quite a strange place. Everything from dreams of opportunity, the scary neighbor downstairs, and even the love of a lost child are not quite as they first appear.
Before you start thinking this is another tearjerking immigrant family tale, think again. Sheridan has drawn from his own experiences to craft an extraordinary tale of hardship, loss, and perseverance that every American can relate to, regardless of their origin. The film tackles subjects varying from the cyclical nature of life and death, coping with the loss of loved ones, finding lost faith, following your dreams despite seemingly insurmountable odds, learning to deal with your own mortality, the importance of family, the kindness of strangers, the dangers of judging books by their covers, and how sometimes, the best way to pay respect to a dead loved one is to just say goodbye. You get to know these characters completely. They’re not roughly hewn husks of foreign caricatures, but living, breathing people. You care about their trials and losses, and honestly hope to see them succeed in the end.
It’s refreshing to see Djimon Hounsou in a role where he can actually display his talent and child actors that aren’t there only for comic relief. In fact, the kids have some of the most insightful quips in the film. It’s understandable, as a child’s eyes are not yet cloded with the cynicism and brainwashing that comes with the advancing in years. One of my favourite scenes involves the girls preparing for Halloween. With one small sentence the girl conveys parallel’s from Halloween Trick-or-Treating to America’s insatiable desire for instant gratification in all things, be it creature comforts or foreign policy. At one point Djimon speaks of spirits and how you only hear from them if they are upset. If the spirits are happy you never hear from them. Again, a small remark with far reaching meaning, that touches on any number of American traits from family relations to political. Absolutely wonderful.
I highly recommend In America. Jim Sheridan has created yet another masterpiece. I can finally add a fourth to my favourite films of the year.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we owe it all to the immigrants. We wouldn’t be here if not for the curiosity and ambition of our ancestors. America, the supposed Melting Pot, sometimes makes sure that it’s not that simple. Bigots teach their children to distrust and some succeed. Perhaps through human nurture, people rely on their misjudgment for advice. People make false assumptions, they cling to first impressions. It’s textbook psychology and it’s friggin irritating. I’d like to refer to the instances in this movie as the “immigrant inside”. The various façades we procure in order to make it through our lives and through our societal realms. The emotions we are willing to share with others or pretend not to possess.
There are moments in everyone's life where we pause to account and wonder who is that visitor, disguised as and impersonating us, telling us it's not okay to be who we want to be or even to simply be happy. It's incredible to witness the range of discovery that every character in this movie exemplifies, ascertains and, most importantly, renounces.
Johnny (Paddy Considine), the man of the house, is an emotionally stunted shell who still blames himself for his young son’s death and has grown spiritually numb because of it. Although he tries his best to physically provide all he can, he represents the selfishness of the human device --denial, self-pity and guilt. The additional irony is that he is an actor who cannot feel. His wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) tries to help him notice how his insolence is hurting the family and himself. Everytime he refuses, she tries harder, which only pushes him farther away. He’s obviously not ready to forgive himself yet.
It is also textbook psychology that we travel through the separate stages of bereavement. Everyone is connected this way yet everyone has to deal with it in their own methods, their own time. Christy (Sarah Bolger), the realist and pragmatist of the family, sorts out things for the others. Establishing herself as the selflessness of humanity, yet remaining cautious and wary, she knows that sometimes it’s best to lie. When she’s upset, it’s bittersweet: “In America you don’t ask for help, you DEMAND it! You get it by threatening people.” She’s been hurt before, and has already had to deal with the loss of her brother. She is astonishingly astute at only 10 years old. Beautifully juxtaposed to Christy’s personality is her younger sister Ariel (Emma Bolger) who's infectious grins and belief in magic are smartly echoed in the whimsical soundtrack. She pardons those who need assistance, yet isn’t quite wise enough to realize the proper way to handle a situation. She doesn’t need to hide though; her feelings are innocently brazen and on display, including the disappointment in her father.
A street junkie sums up the moral in one line, one that's familiar but we can never hear it enough: "You've had a bad day? Everyone's had a bad day". Another great point is how the girls are are steadfast about secret wishes and magic lemondrops, yet they are not locked into fantasy; they remain amazingly aware. This stands as proof that the magic of Youth need not dissipate with age. In America is going to be released in the U.S. just in time for the holidays, just in time for everyone to appreciate the magic of Family.