Movie-Hype (#705) – IN AMERICA
Somewhere along the line I crossed over, went from objective reviewer with no rooting interest to a complete partisan. This doesn't mean I go into the movies biased—I try very hard not to—but that when I present them to you here I have a vested interest in whether you see the film or not. Why is that? Why can I not just do as other reviewers do and give my take on the film, hopefully with some style and wit, and leave the decision up to you?
Because I care.
Maybe I'm a fool, but I can't seem to help it. When I come across a great movie, a movie that inspires me, makes me want to write a great film script, tell the people I love that I love them, or simply be a better man…well, I want others to have that same experience too.
This brings us to IN AMERICA.
For those of you determined to wave the ugly flag, fear not: IN AMERICA is not some jingoistic experience of red, white and blue. It's also not the anti Michael Moore film, determined to love America as much as others want to hate it. The title simply refers to the experience of an Irish immigrant family in the early 1980s as they arrive in America.
(Because of their immigration status and the current bitch-fest—that is to say national discussion on the issue the tendency might be to get side-tracked on their being immigrants. Please resist the urge to go spelunking in your own hind-quarters and just ignore any current ramifications. I promise you the story was not written to inflame anyone's feelings on cheap labor.)
What IN AMERICA gives us is the story of a family. They are new to America, immigrants, but in another way it could be almost any family struggling to make it. Besides the turmoil of moving across the ocean, this family has recently suffered the death of a small child, a trauma the remaining kids have handled the way only kids can. A trauma the adults cannot begin to get over.
By way of the last paragraph (which is information come early, so don't be thinking I've spilled Bessie's milk on ye), you might think IN AMERICA is a sad film. I won't lie to you. There is sadness here, what I've described, and other things I leave to you to discover. But there is also great joy, and magic, and….I just don't want to go any further here. You just have to trust me.
The script was good enough to get an Oscar Nomination, but what you will not be able to forget are the performances. Samantha Morton may be the best "silent" actor of our generation. Sadly, if you know her at all it's probably as the pre-cog in MINORITY REPORT. She plays Sarah, a mother who finds it a blasphemy that her husband Johnny (played by relative newcomer Paddy Considine; equally as effective) has asked her to move on. She doesn't want to move on, which leaves Johnny trying to bring in money that's never enough and raise two girls; jobs he's equally ill equipped to handle. Johnny himself feels dead inside, unable to grieve his own child.
A moment on these children. Christy and Ariel (played by real life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) are astonishingly good. I'm generally of the opinion that kids can't act, and good performances are more a result of the director, but whatever the case these girls are just totally believable as sisters. (Small wonder, but that of thing is probably harder to translate than we might think.) I don't say this lightly, but these girls are Top Five—all time—in terms of kids on screen. They're that good.
Watching the girls try to assimilate to their new world is both touching and at times hilarious. Wanting to be like the other "richer" kids at school broke my heart. I remember those days. Wanting to go trick-or-treating because other kids did; I remember that too. Of course, not every experience translated.
Ariel: What are transvestites?
Christy: A man who dresses up as a woman.
Ariel: For Halloween?
Christy: No, all the time. All the time.
Christy: It's just what they do here, OK?
This leaves upstairs neighbor Mateo, played by Djimon Honsou. I have been an utter fan since he gave one of the best performances of the '90s in AMISTAD. There is a grace and dignity to him that nothing can erase. Honsou's Mateo is a tortured soul, known as the screaming man because screams are often heard coming out of his apartment. If you're not aware of Honsou, he's African, from Benin, and blessed with very dark skin. Mateo begins to interact with family, first with the girls who seem horrified and fascinated by Mateo at the same time, and later with Sarah, who befriends him as well. I mention the skin because I want you to think for a minute what an Irishman new to New York City in 1982 might think of that situation.
One guesses you can imagine his thoughts and fears. What you cannot contemplate is what comes from that. It is this turning point of the film that takes IN AMERICA from a well acted immigrant drama to a true work of art, a nearly flawless movie.
I don't know how else to put this. If you're looking for a reason to feel proud of America (or Canada, which also has a history of taking in immigrants), than IN AMERICA is for you. If you're looking for a movie to honor the immigrant experience, IN AMERICA is for you. If you're looking for a reason to hate everything around you, to dismiss it all as evil and terrible, than I can't help you. But if you're looking for the most special film you're likely to see this year, IN AMERICA is for you.