Tuesday, August 26, 2008

IN AMERICA - witty, earnest biopic undone by cheap sentiment

Ariel: What are transvestites?
Christy: A man who dresses up as a woman.
Ariel: For Halloween?
Christy: No, all the time. All the time.
Ariel: Why?
Christy: It's just what they do here, OK?

It's this sort of dialogue that makes Jim Sheridan's 2002 film IN AMERICA a
delight to watch. Much like BLAME IT ON FIDEL, it takes the point of view of a young girl living through family disruption in the near past. This time, instead of late 60s revolutionary Paris, we're in early 80s New York. Two young sisters are brought to America by their Irish parents. Mum is a waitress, dad is an out of work actor, and they live in a manky apartment building full of drug addicts and a threatening neighbour who screams a lot.

Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton are tremendous as the parents. I tend to think that Considine is rather overlooked compared to Morton. I've seen him do pathetic and sleazy in MY SUMMER OF LOVE and sinister and threatening in DEAD MAN'S SHOES. In this picture he shows the frustrations and insecurities of the father who can't provide for his children with a devestating passion in a pivotal scene with Djimon Hounsou.

Sadly, the movie is completely undercut by a rather simplistic, sentimental plot thread in which the scary African neighbour is, in fact, a pussycat, and everyone just gets on swimmingly. I can't say I'm sorry that IN AMERICA lost any of its three nominations at the Academy Awards.

IN AMERICA played Toronto 2002 and Sundance 2003. It is available on DVD and on iTunes. Samantha Morton was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Charlize Theron for her role in MONSTER. Djimon Hounsou was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but lost to Tim Robbins in MYSTIC RIVER. Jim, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan were nominated for Best Original Screenplay but lost to Sofia Coppola for LOST IN TRANSLATION.

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