Attempting to make a movie about the American Dream is, even in
the most skilled hands, almost always a flawed undertaking. The
story of coming to America has been told so many times that nearly
any permutation of it hardly seems innovative — or even
interesting. “In America” fills the tired tale of
immigrant life in America with a previously unseen vigor, a
forceful intensity that, in emphasizing struggle with brutal
honesty, makes triumph indescribably sweeter.

Janna Hutz
The greatest movie about coming to America since … “Coming to America.” (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

The story, which is rooted in Director Jim Sheridan’s own
immigration experiences, follows Johnny (Paddy Considine, “24
Hour Party People”) and Sarah (Samantha Morton,
“Minority Report”), a young Irish couple and their two
daughters, Christy (Sara Bolger, “A Love Divided”) and
Ariel (Emma Bolger), as they settle in Manhattan, start their lives
anew and attempt to leave behind them the anguish of their
past.

Problems abound from day one, as Johnny struggles to find work
acting and Sarah works for meager wages at a local ice cream
parlor. All the while, their tenement is barely habitable, and they
have virtually no money, all of which goes toward subsistence and
the girls’ Catholic education. It’s only when they
unexpectedly befriend a reclusive neighbor that they discover hope
and strength amidst seemingly endless despair.

Both the grief and eventual hope are very tangible emotions, and
they’re roused wonderfully through subtle filmmaking.
Certainly the loss of a loved one has its effect on the family, but
their struggle and pain are conveyed most clearly through everyday
frustrations and toils. Watching Johnny cart an air conditioner
angrily through the city streets to help his girls on a summer day
garners sympathy. Seeing him risk their entire savings to win Ariel
an E.T. doll at the fair proves his unyielding desire to please his
girls.

This meditative style also helps Sheridan and company capture
the essential beauty of scenes that can only be appreciated
appropriately on film. From a musically-charged snowball fight in a
wintry landscape to a solemn close-up of a newborn child, “In
America” makes great the most simple, potentially trivial,
moments.

It also capitalizes on the basic, most unrefined roles of the
film: those of the two sisters –– played by actual
sisters — Christy and Ariel. They complement each other
ideally, as Christy reveals a taciturn understanding and
appreciation for her family’s lot, while Ariel teems with
vigor and adorably innocent curiosity. Indeed, their unity brings
sanity to their parents’ chaotic lives and buttresses
relationships both within and outside the family. As children, they
provide crucial coherence to a family that, without it, would have
crumbled and never reached its sweet deliverance.

Rating: 5 stars.

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