Jim Sheridan has made some important movies. Things like My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. Movies that tackle big issues, serious themes and get lots of attention at Oscar time. He also made the movie starring 50 Cent, which just seems too bonkers for me to ever watch. I don’t think the reality of a white haired old Irishman directing a flash in the pan gangster rapper could ever live up to the wacky weirdness thinking about that combo conjures up. And amongst that filmography, you get something small, something personal, something really affecting, like In America.
Semi autobiographical, and co-written with his daughters, In America parallels Sheridan’s own decision to movie to New York with his wife and young daughters in the early 80s. Paddy Considine is the Sheridan facsimile, playing Johnny Sullivan, husband, father and struggling actor. Samantha Morton is his wife Sarah, and real life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger play daughters Christy and Ariel.
Broke on arrival, they move into a run down building of junkies, hookers and general low lifes. Initially their high spirits get them through, but they’re soon worn down. They meet their intimidating neighbour Mateo, played by Djimon Houbnsou who eventually becomes the family’s closest friend. Which makes it a real kick in the guys when you find out he has a bit of the of the old AIDS. Sarah falls pregnant which only highlights their money troubles and the pain Johnny is still feeling over the recent death of their young son, Frankie.
Amongst all the bad luck, and general crapping on the Sullivan family by the universe, In America is ultimately a really optimistic and happy movie. It’s all about unfaltering familial love and support, sticking together through the rough times and ultimately finding happiness. That probably sounds pretty schmaltzy, and at times In America is definitely that, but somehow Sheridan makes it work.
There’s nothing subtle about this movie. It wears its message very openly on its sleeve. Luckily, Considine is an amazing actor and really sells it. Morton did a job so good she got nominated for an Oscar, and it’s impossible not to like the two young girls. Hounsou is lumped with a bit of a clichéd character, the wise and spiritual black dude with an exotic accent, but he does the best with it.
If you want a movie that heaps on the sadness and despair just so it can hit you over the head with an ultra happy ending, In America ticks all the boxes. And I don’t mean that to sound so dismissive. Even the oldest and most worn out clichés are still entertaining when executed well.