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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
SHARING A GOOD TIME IN AMERICA: Father and mother Johnny (Paddy Considine, left) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) share a happy moment in Harlem with their daughters Ariel and Christy (Sisters Emma, left, and Sarah Bolger) despite the many tribulations they endured while finding their place in America..end caption.


Angela's Ashes Themes Are Revisited in the Film "In America"

In 1997, Frank McCourt won a Pulitzer Prize for Angela's Ashes, a heartrending account of his miserable childhood as the eldest sibling in an impoverished Irish Catholic family. Narrated from an adolescent's eye view, the relentlessly grim remembrance starts with his immigrant parents' fateful decision to repatriate to Ireland following the death, in infancy, of their only daughter. So, they uprooted their four young sons from Brooklyn, though the family's hardships would only intensify after that ill-advised return to Limerick.

McCourt's harrowing memoir was imperfectly adapted to the screen as a depressing litany of plagues visited upon the hopelessly cursed clan. Nonetheless, there are several parallels between Angela's Ashes and the relatively uplifting In America, a semi-autobiographical exploration of several of the same themes.

In America comes courtesy of Jim, Naomi, and Kirsten Sheridan. Jim is the writer and director of such Dublin based pictures as My Left Foot (1989), In the Name of the Father (1993), and The Boxer (1997). Naomi and Kirsten are the two time Academy Award-winner's daughters. Together, the three have collaborated to fashion a semi-autobiographical reminiscence of their family's emigration from Ireland to New York City in the early 1980s.

A magical blend of fact and fiction, the film alternates between the whimsical, the sentimental, the comical, and the miraculous. Nearly every scene is stolen by a couple of real-life sisters, 11 year-old Sarah and 7 year-old Emma Bolger, who appear here as siblings, Christy and Ariel, respectively. Oscar-nominee Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown) and Paddy Considine (Doctor Sleep) co-star as their parents, Sarah and Johnny.

As the story opens, we find the financially strapped family sneaking into the United States by illegally crossing the Canadian border. They are coming to this country more out of an emotional than an economic sense of desperation because they are also in mourning. The fresh start was inspired by the death of two year-old Frankie. In actuality, Frankie was a brother of Jim Sheridan, not his child, the first of many liberties taken with the truth by the director. However, such artfully deceptive devices end up redeemed by the truly moving overall experience.

Wrestling with demons individually and collectively, the bereaved family finds shelter shortly after arriving in New York in a dilapidated Harlem tenement inhabited by drug dealers, transvestites, and a most-forbidding, bellowing black man (Djimon Hounsou). If this Harlem looks a tad unfamiliar, despite the graffiti-splashed cityscape and unsavory characters lurking at every turn, it's probably because the bulk of the movie was shot on a set in the middle of Ireland.

Aspiring actor Johnny gets work as a cab driver and Sarah takes a job at an ice cream parlor to supplement his income, so that he can still find time to audition for plays. And despite their disadvantages, the altruistic Christy and Abel pitch in wherever they can, from befriending an AIDS patient, to reading dialogue with Daddy, to propping up their parents with emotional support, to just being adorably precocious.

For all its improbability, what does ring true is In America's very satisfying payoff, one well-earned even if stirred by a sappy, self-congratulatory tale of triumph of penniless newcomers over every sort of adversity such as grief, poverty, crime, nightmares, unemployment, poor plumbing, the elements, rigged games of chance, and a close brush with danger every time they set foot outside of their apartment.

Beating those odds adds up to a feel-great film.

Excellent (3 & 1/2 stars). Rated PG-13 for scenes of sexuality, brief violence, adult themes, and drug use.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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