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flick pick | In America 2002
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Written by: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
Starring: Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: feel-good
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis It's the 1980s and a struggling young Irish couple, Johnny and Sarah, sneak into the United States with their daughters Christy and Ariel to begin a new life in New York City. They've lost their son and brother, Frankie, to a brain tumor, and all four of the surviving family members are having a hard time, though each has a very different way of coping with the pain. In a beat-up old station wagon, they enter the U.S. at the Canadian border, pretending to be just another happy family on holiday. They end up moving into a gargantuan semi-abandoned loft in Hell's Kitchen, in an apartment building where the neighbors are constantly shouting each other, often in languages other than English, and every other person seems to be a drug addict. But for Ariel and Christy, at least, America's a wondrous and magical new world to explore. The younger, effervescent Ariel dives into it all with glee, making friends in the unlikeliest of places and finding fun amidst the squalor; the older, more reserved Christy absorbs it all from the behind the lens of her beloved camcorder, occasionally looking towards her dead brother to help her make sure that everything goes all right for their family. Whether it's digging into diner food, watching E.T. on the big screen, or demanding Halloween treats from the scary neighbor who eventually becomes a true friend to the whole family, Christy and Ariel eagerly embrace their new life in America. For Johnny and Sarah as well, the healing process slowly begins, as they renovate the apartment, rebuild their lives, and rediscover the joy and the strength that can come from love, family, friendship -- those ties that even death can't sever.

Review Hell's Kitchen in the early 80s isn't exactly high on my list of historical places and times it would have been fun to have experienced. But in Jim Sheridan's In America, that world looks like a fairy tale at times, as a derelict apartment building becomes a sort of enchanted castle, complete with lovely princesses, a noble prince, and a fairy godmother -- er, make that godbrother. Johnny, Sarah, Christy and Ariel might live in poverty, but there's nothing poor about their lives. It's not that the script glosses over the difficulties of being an illegal immigrant with no money -- we see actor Johnny slogging through one unsuccessful audition after another, we sit on the edge of our seats as he nearly loses the family's entire puny savings over some dumb carnival game, we feel for Christy and Ariel when their homemade Halloween costumes, the only ones in a sea of sparkly-new bought outfits, garner them a sympathy prize from the nuns at their school. Their lives aren't easy, but in it's best moments, In America shows how the things that really make a life rich -- love and a whole heap of imagination -- don't have anything to do with fat bank accounts at all. Sadly, the second half of the movie doesn't quite sustain the magic; it's not the fault of the actors, all of whom are marvelous, but as the movie starts worrying about tying together the pieces to create some semblance of a plot, we just don't get as many of the nice little slice-of-life bits that form the movie's first half, and make the family so palpably real. Still, In America's brimming with so much hope and loveliness that you can't help but feel thankful for the fuzzy-warm feeling it leaves inside.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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