Making the Grades
The American Dream can mean something different to everyone--an opportunity to make it big, the hope for better times, a chance to forget the past. For a family of Irish immigrants it seems to be a little of all the above.
Falsifying their way into the country, they pass by the flashing neon lights and expensive accommodations of downtown Manhattan and settle into an apartment in the seedier part of the borough. There Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) share their tenement with junkies, drag queens and other societal cast offs. But the couple is not about to let their surroundings stop them from starting a new life with their daughters, Christi and Ariel (played by real life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger). Making the best of the drafty, decaying loft, Johnny is eager to try his luck on Broadway as an actor while Sarah works in an ice cream parlor.
Full of grit and spunk, they attack life in the hubbub of New York with a certain kind of fervor. The local shop owners and other tennants tolerate, if not embrace, the antics of their precocious little Ariel and her more reserved older sister who freely roam the littered streets in the neighborhood. Trying their luck at the Halloween tradition of trick or treating, the girls ignore a large painted "keep away" sign on the door of Mateo, the fierce looking man (Djimon Hounsou) who lives on the floor below them. Making inroads that are often open only to children, they begin an odd sort of friendship with the man.
But a painful event haunts the newcomers' best intentions to find happiness in their adopted country. It's a secret that slowly unfolds as Christi chronicles their lives on her little red camcorder.
In America is directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) and co-written with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten. Hinting at his own experience in coming to America, the film tells the bittersweet story of the Irish family's integration into the modern city.
Baring the truth that not all roads in the United States are paved with gold, the script is solidly written and acted, depicting a reality known to many new immigrants. The young Bolger siblings pull off their roles with believability and poise; an award-potential performance that rivals more experienced actors.
But with that reality comes a brief scene of street violence and one use of a sexual expletive along with a few other profanities. The movie also digresses for a jarring sexual encounter between Johnny and Sarah that feels entirely foreign to the rest of the story.
Many adults will likely appreciate In America for its important messages about prejudice, determination, and accepting things that cannot be changed. Yet the moment of marital passion makes it difficult to broadly recommend for family audiences.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about In America.
How did the presence of this Irish family influence the actions and feelings of the other residents in their apartment building and neighborhood? How did the others in their community affect the family?
How did each family member approach the grieving process? In what ways was each one of them affected by the past events of their lives?
What things do many immigrants have to leave behind or give up when moving to a new country? What motivates them to come?