In America (2003): Jim Sheridan’s Semi-Autobiographical Immigrant Tale

Based on a screenplay that he co-penned with his own daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, “In America,” Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical Irish immigration yarn, is a simple but moving drama. The film is personal in another way—it’s deidcated to Sheridan’s brother Frankie who died at the age of ten.

Modest to a fault, and sporadically touching, the tale centers on the efforts of one Irish family to survive the hardships of New York City in the 1980s.  What gives the film a fresh angle is its point of view—the events are seen through the eyes of the elder daughter, Christy, who chronicles the proceedings with a camcorder.

Johnny and Sarah Sullivan (Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton) and their daughters enter the U.S, on tourist visa via Canada, where Johnny worked as an actor. The family settles in a shabby Hell’s Kitchen tenement occupied by drug addicts, transvestites, and initially a strange and scary Nigerian artist named Mateo Kuamey (Djimon Hounsou of “Amisted” fame).

The members are still haunted by the death of their young son Frankie, who died from brain tumor, caused by an accidental fall. Sarah gets a job at the local ice cream parlor to support the family, while Johnny auditions for any role he can get. Despite their poverty, just the joy of being in the land of freedom gives the clan spiritual energy to continue on in their assimilation efforts.  But as money runs low and the city’s temperatures soar, tensions between Johnny and Sarah begin to rise with them. Not helping their financial and emotional strain is the discovery Sarah is pregnant. Johnny finds work as a cab driver to help pay for the girls’ Catholic school tuition.

On Halloween, the girls meet Mateo when they knock at his door, and a friendhship evolves, leading to the revelation that he is dying of AIDS.  As Mateo’s condition deteriorates, Sarah’s pregnancy develops, and a baby is born prematurely and in poor health.  Not supriisngly, Mateo’s death coincides with the first  movements of the infant following a blood transfusion from Christy.

While honest and not as sentimental as it could have been, “In America” is nonetheless the kind of film with not much subtext.  Moreover, there’s nothing for the audience to do but nod with approval and feel empathy with the struggling immigrants.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 3

Original Screenplay: Jim Sheridan, with Naomi and Christen Sheridan
Actress: Samantha Morton
Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou

Oscar Awards: None


Johnny (Paddy Considine)

Sarah (Samantha Morton)

Christy (Sarah Bolger)

Ariel (Emma Bolger)

Mateo (Djimon Hounsou)