In America

on November 26, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
An immigrant Irish family that endures travails in New York is the subject of the semi-autobiographical and uneven film from Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot," "In The Name of the Father"). Still reeling from the death of son Frankie, the Sullivan family decides to relocate to New York. Father Johnny (Paddy Considine) is trying to make it as an actor. Mother Sarah (Samantha Morton) just wants to make do. The two girls in the family, 11-year-old Christy (Sarah Bolger) and her younger sister Ariel (Emma Bolger), are enthralled by their new home and, in their explorations, befriend "the man who screams," Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), the dying artist who lives next door. Narrated by Christy, "In America" is part magic realist fable, part kitchen sink drama, and therein lies the problem.

As skilled a filmmaker as Sheridan is, he is bound by the rules set out by the story. He needs, and fails, to explain how the Sullivans' meager income is enough to live on--this is New York City, after all--and why the dangerous, run-down apartment building where the they reside is not really so bad. There is one extraordinarily gripping sequence, set in an amusement park, in which Johnny risks the family savings in an attempt to win Ariel an E.T. doll. But for much of the movie, mundane, authentic details are ignored, which stretches credibility. The girls' friendship with Mateo is also problematic; he's believable but his interactions with the Sullivans are just a little too precious.

Sheridan claims much of what happened in the movie happened to him. But, as depicted on screen, "In America," despite superior acting from Morton and the Bolger sisters, fails to completely convince. Starring Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan. Produced by Jim Sheridan and Arthur Lappin. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief violence and language. Running time: 103 min

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