A review of “In America” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

 

 

Jim Sheridan utilizes wily Irish storytelling to craft a personal immigrant tale that virtually begs for a box of Kleenex.

America” confronts hope in its rawest form.  Hoping to jump-start their lives after a personal tragedy involving their only son, Irish immigrants Johnny and Sarah (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton) arrive in New York City with their two young daughters in tow, full of promise and expectations. Johnny is a fledgling actor who’s sure to find employment in the Big Apple, and Sarah is set on keeping house and raising her family the old-fashioned way.

But the American streets are far from paved with gold.  Holed up in a grimy tenement, the couple attempts to make their place a home while their girls Christy and Ariel (Sarah and Emma Bolger) turn every setback into a magical American moment. 

Johnny takes odd jobs (cab driving, etc.) and Sarah finds work at a local diner. The girls are left on their own to get the lay of the land, enrolling in school and trying to fit in.  While Halloween trick-or-treating in their wretched crack-den of an apartment building, the girls are confronted by their reclusive “screaming man” neighbor Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), who unexpectedly becomes the family’s ally as they hurtle towards their next personal crisis.

America” should be the kind of three-hankie picture that sets tongues a-wagging and sees studio execs wallowing in greenbacks.  Told from the point of view of 11-year old Christy, the story is reinforced by refreshing innocence and optimism.  Unfortunately, that vivacious feel-goodness borders on the manipulative, at times dissolving the drama into a mush of cloying sweetness.

The real weak link is Hounsou, whose character is frightfully underdeveloped and whose guardian-angel symbolism spills over the dramatic margins into the absurd.  Considine and Morton are convincingly discouraged by their perpetual emotional collisions, with Morton exuding a mother’s loss and an indefinable need.  The Bolger sisters are spirited knock-outs, cute as buttons and sprinkled with youthful pixie dust.  Their inherent warmth is enough to tip the scales in the drama’s favor.

Hyper-sentimental yet brimming with aspiration, “America” is a sound stab at an age-old story.