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Film / In America

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"We heard Manhattan before we ever saw it, a thousand strange voices coming from everywhere."

In America is a 2002 Irish drama film directed by Jim Sheridan, starring Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou and Sarah Bolger in her film debut. It is mostly based on Sheridan's real life experiences when he moved to the USA for work.

Set in 1982, the story is told from the perspective of Christy Sullivan (Bolger), a ten-year-old Irish girl whose family emigrates to America for a fresh start. She and her younger sister Ariel (played by Bolger's real life sister Emma) have recently lost their baby brother Frankie to a brain tumour and the family is struggling to cope. Navigating the hardships of their new life in New York City, and a growing friendship with an African man called Mateo (Honsou) who lives in their building, help the family to grow and move past the tragedy.


This film provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: An Irish family with names such as Johnny, Sarah, Christy, Frankie and...Ariel? We can only assume the parents were massive fans of The Little Mermaid (1989).
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Played with. Sarah getting pregnant and bringing a new baby into the family does help them get over Frankie but their issues are resolved through other means and Johnny does point out the difficulties another child would bring to the family.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Averted. Johnny has trouble getting roles because he can longer express proper emotions in his acting.
  • Bait the Dog: A bum appears numerous times in the film, acting friendly to Johnny and offering him food stamps at one point. In the third act he tries to mug him.
  • Big Applesauce: The family move to and live in Manhattan.
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  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: As Mateo dies, the newborn baby Sarah shows signs of life.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: A sadder version of this trope than normal; when Johnny asks Christy, "Are you okay, little girl?", she snaps, "Don't 'little girl' me. I've been carrying this family on my back for over a year."
  • Children Are Innocent: Ariel. Best underlined by...
    Ariel: What's a transvestite?
    Christy: A man who dresses up as a woman.
    Ariel: For Halloween?
  • The City vs. the Country: Done realistically meaning the family accepts the hardships of moving to America but ultimately find their feet without having to return home.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted — when Christy tries to perform CPR on Mateo after he falls down the stairs at their apartment building, the other residents warn her away because they know Mateo is HIV-positive. HIV transmission vectors were not well understood in the early 80's, and even Ariel is worried that Christy will "get Mateo's disease" because she "kissed" him.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Ariel says they'll name the new baby after Mateo. It turns out to be a girl so they just give her Mateo as a middle name. It would have been a straight example if Sarah had died like the doctors thought she would.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Plenty of cultural differences between Ireland and America are pointed out.
  • Empathic Environment: It starts to rain during Sarah and Johnny's steamy sex scene just before Sarah starts talking about their dead son.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Sarah can't get a teaching job, so she works at an ice cream parlour instead. Johnny is seen working as a taxi driver as well.
  • Fanservice: The family arrives in New York during a very hot summer so Paddy Considine spends about half an hour running around in vests and tank tops while Samantha Morton gets a big She's Got Legs scene.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted completely. The family must sell their car to pay the deposit on their run-down apartment, Sarah must work overtime at an ice cream parlour and Johnny works as a taxi driver to barely scrape even.
  • How's Your British Accent?: When Johnny is auditioning for a play, he's asked to do a London accent. Paddy Considine uses his real voice for that line.
  • In-Universe Camera: Christy has one that helps document some of their lives in America.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Ariel to the lady in the ice cream parlour "Mummy's playing with Daddy upstairs".
  • Irony: Christy and Ariel want to go trick or treating outside, however Sarah rejects the idea saying that they cannot threaten junkies and cross-dressers in the neighbourhood, despite their apartment building having those types of people.
  • It's a Costume Party, I Swear!: An unintentional variation. The girls go to a Halloween party at their school wearing homemade costumes only to find everyone else has bought theirs.
  • Jobless Parent Drama: Subverted, Johnny is a struggling actor looking for work while Sarah makes ends meet by working at a ice cream store.
  • Magical Negro: Mateo is a bit of a Reconstruction. He is very spiritual and helps the family out but is actually dying of an illness and is deeply depressed over losing his own wife and son. Johnny initially resents him for being a better father figure to the girls but ultimately the relationship with him helps the family for the better.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Sarah's "wishes" are never said to be actually magic or just lucky coincidence but the first one gets them through the border and the second helps Johnny win the ET doll and stop them from blowing all their money.
  • Mondegreen: Ariel thinks The Star-Spangled Banner goes "Jose can you see", but Christy corrects her.
  • Never Say "Die": Mateo lies to Ariel saying he's an alien and going away to another planet instead of dying of a serious illness. Which makes it all the more shocking when Ariel blatantly says the word "dying" later in the film.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Much like Slumdog Millionaire this was marketed as a happy uplifting family film, leaving out all the angst and tear-jerking including the fact that the family had recently lost a child.
  • The Pollyanna: Ariel, though she does have her moments.
  • Rule of Three: Frankie gives Christy three wishes. The O'Sullivans have a third child by the end.
  • Stepford Smiler: Sarah who puts on a brave face for the sake of the children, though is deeply depressed over losing Frankie.
    "Make believe you're happy, Johnny. For the kids."
  • Welcome to the Big City: Played very straight with the first sequence of the family entering New York.


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