East of Harlem
an optimistic film presenting an outsiders view of the opportunities of a land of dreams
Running Time: 105 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Country: Ireland, United Kingdom
Irish couple Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) take up illegal residence in New York with their young daughters Christy and Ariel (played by the extraordinary sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger), moving into a Manhattan tenement and working off the books. The daughters think that their delapidated building is haunted, but in fact it is their family which is haunted by unresolved memories of the girls' brother Frankie, who recently died of a brain tumour. Johnny and Sarah have soon cleaned up the apartment, but the cracks in their life prove more difficult to mend, until Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), a troubled African artist living downstairs, offers them a miraculous gift with which to exorcise the ghost of their past and start afresh.
The semi-autobiographical 'In America' is written not just by Jim Sheridan ('My Left Foot', 'In the Name of the Father'), but also by his daughters Kirsten and Naomi, ensuring that Christy's narration and her many scenes with Ariel are always convincing and never patronising. Their parents Johnny and Sarah are just as engaging (if somewhat more damaged), and the scenes in which they gamble everything in high-risk attempts to rebuild their family are nail-bitingly suspenseful because the script (and acting) makes us genuinely care about what happens to all four of them. The final scenes are deeply moving.
The main themes of 'In America' are grief and healing, luck and magic, despair and hope, death and rebirth, all of which find a sympathetic backdrop in the cycle of changing seasons in New York. The family's recovery from tragedy is shown to be inseparable from their gradual integration into their new community and the Americanisation of the two daughters. In this way a highly personal experience is cast as a universal story of immigrants trying to escape the past and build a new life for themselves. This gives 'In America' a subtly political dimension, showing the human face of illegal immigration. The film 'E.T.', which the family sees together, becomes a dynamic symbol both for the family's acceptance of Frankie's 'return home' to heaven, but also for their own status as aliens in America.
Ultimately it is an optimistic film presenting an outsider's view of the opportunities for change offered by a land of dreams.
It's Got: Laughter, tears, madness, magic, and E.T.
It Needs: To lose one or two less relevant scenes (e.g. some of those which Johnny shares with native New Yorkers)
Alternatives:Angelas Ashes, Brother from Another Planet, E.T., The Spirit of the Beehive
A moving, deeply personal tale of illegal aliens, extraterrestrials, and learning to say goodbye.