Ten year-old Christy moves to America with her family after the death of her brother, Frankie. They start their new life in a run-down New York apartment block, populated by 'junkies and prostitutes', and soon meet a mysterious painter, Mateo, whose friendship will change their lives.
Jim Sheridan's In America received standing ovations at its Toronto, Sundance and Edinburgh Film Festival screenings. Often it's hard to see why films like this have been so hyped at festivals, but Sheridan's semi-autobiographical tale is an exception.
Loosely based on his experiences of moving to America to set up the Irish Arts Theatre, the masterstroke here is to tell the story from his daughters' viewpoint (both of whom helped with the screenplay). What could have been a self-indulgent exercise becomes a deep exploration of grief in the younger generation, made more poignant by the astounding quality of the two real-life sisters cast in these roles. Sarah Bolger, in particular, has a maturity and depth not seen in a young actor since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.
Of course, this child's view does add a sentimental tone to the script, and there are scenes involving loner artist Mateo's growing affection for the family which could have the less saccharine-inclined reaching for the vomit bags. While Djimon Hounsou isn't bad, his role is the one jarring note in the film. Paddy Considine emerges as a real presence as the roguish father, while Samantha Morton's ethereal nature perfectly suits a mother torn between grieving for her son and rejoining her remaining family.
The original title for the film was East Of Harlem, so it's no surprise that the other most obvious presence is the New York slums. The movie is effused with affection for this area, and what could have been a depressing setting transforms into a fairy-tale backdrop as the seasons change. Snow falls into comforting blankets and heat seems to condense, steam-like, on the screen. It's these touches to Sheridan's most personal work that lend it a poetic quality and make it a fitting film for him to dedicate to his brother Frankie, who died from a brain tumour aged just ten.
Lovingly shot, with a remarkable debut from Sarah Bolger, who along with sister Emma, gives one of the greatest ever child performances.