Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s Siblings Week at The A.V. Club, so we’re recommending movies about sisters.
Child performances rarely come as unaffected and poignant as those by Sarah and Emma Bolger in In America, Jim Sheridan’s 2002 semi-autobiographical film about an Irish family struggling to make a go of it in 1982 New York City. The emotional core of the movie, real-life siblings Sarah and Emma play Christy and Ariel Sullivan, whose acclimation to their new environment is complicated by the recent death of their little brother Frankie. Grief over that horrific loss still grips both girls, as well as their mother Sarah (Samantha Morton) and father Johnny (Paddy Considine), and as they attempt to make themselves comfortable in a junkie-populated tenement building, the silent, stout Christy and the plucky, adorable Ariel stand as supportive witnesses to their parents’ efforts to claw out a new life on Manhattan’s socio-economic margins. That most pressingly involves Johnny’s arduous efforts to get an acting job, and to keep the clan together, all while refusing to confront his son’s tragic passing—a state of denial that, in one of many painfully difficult scenes, leads him to risk every last dollar they have at a carnival booth, where winning a stuffed E.T. doll comes to represent some small triumph amid so much loss.
Sheridan’s story is an unabashedly sentimental saga of learning to overcome adversity for the sake of one’s loved ones and one’s self, and in the figure of Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), a neighbor who’s dying of AIDS and spends much of his time screaming and raging while painting in his apartment, the director trips somewhat clumsily into “magical Negro” territory. Nonetheless, Sheridan’s attention to real, messy emotional dilemmas and familial dynamics is both sincere and assured, and he’s aided by two stellar lead performances by Considine and Morton that practically bleed with suppressed and tormented feelings. Ultimately, however, In America earns its waterworks (at multiple instances) courtesy the Bolger sisters, who share an artless and touching on-screen rapport that helps sell even the corniest of Sheridan’s contrivances. In their supportive bond, Sarah and Emma present a portrait of sisterhood as a bone-deep partnership, one that’s held together by not just love, but by a shared refusal to give in to life’s miseries.
Availability: In America is available on DVD through Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.