Lowdown: The ordeals encountered by an Irish family moving to New York during the eighties.
An Irish family crosses the American border, seemingly illegally, and settles in Manhattan. That is the premises of Jim Sheridan’s 2002 film, In America. It’s your average young family with aspirations: the husband is a would be actor looking for an acting career in Broadway, the wife is a mother supporting her children and her husband, and two little girls. We have no idea what got the family all the way to the USA and New York in particular; the only other thing In America is willing to tell us about them is that they had a third child that died as a baby.
With that one big historical blemish on their record, our family is about to face the new ordeal of settling down in a new place. It’s the usual immigrant stuff: finding a place to live, finding a job, dealing with local conditions (e.g., the heat of summer). Everywhere they go our family has it the hard way, most notably with their residence: an old flat in a building full of drug addicts. Thus the story develops: we meet more characters as the family encounters them and we learn more about the family’s tragic past.
I found myself having big problems with In America. The total lack of setup information – why we’re here in New York, what is the motivation of doing this and that – got the better of me. Unable to identify with any of the characters whose ordeals are largely their own fault (as in, they should have known better) I also found myself unmoved by their gruelling experiences: big deal, as if I needed someone to tell me that the life of an immigrant can be hard. The actors, especially the husband, do not do the film much favor either; add the way a mysterious neighbor (Djimon Hounsou) is introduced got me to be openly hostile towards the film, angry at me wasting my precious time on a film that doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself.
Worst scene: The father gets his family an air-conditioner. In order to achieve his goal he has to carry it in traffic and against, up the stairs, and then go find a replacement power plug. The scene is supposed to demonstrate the hardship our family experiences, but give me a break: I had to go through some of those things myself. We all do, when we move, unless we’re millionaires; and you don’t see us making a film about it.
Overall: Bad films are one thing; at least you can entertain yourself by identifying what it is, exactly, that makes them bad. Films that don’t know what they want of themselves are another beast altogether, because they’re just a waste of everybody’s time. In America belongs to the latter group: I don’t know much about its background but it feels to me like a tribute to someone going through what the film’s family went through. Regardless, In America feels more like it should have been a home video, and should thus be treated as such: we know no one would be interested in our home videos so we keep them to ourselves. In America is a home video that wants to impose itself on its viewers, which is why I’m going to be harsh on it and give it 1 out of 5 stars.