Blast from the past: In America

This was the first film I ever watched in a college level film class.  We watched it twice, actually.  It was the first and last film we watched in that class.  I’ve seen it at least once since then.  Great, great film.

Much like Witness, I had to watch the first fifteen minutes on mute.  It was for the same class, which also explains the references to numbers.  (Just ignore those.  Again.)

In America is about an Irish family who are illegal immigrants to New York City.  The father is a struggling actor, the mother is pregnant, and the two girls befriend the hermit neighbor.  Their life is a struggle, but their bond keeps them strong.  Ya know, it’s about lovey junk like that.

The film, In America, directed by Jim Sheridan, was a pleasant surprise.  I heard of it when it first came out, but I had never seen it.  From watching the first fifteen minutes on mute, I followed enough to understand they were coming in from Canada, there was a small problem which they worked out, and the girls were bored.

When we watched it with sound, I was glad to hear the music accompanying the opening sequence that Sheridan filmed himself of the flag waving was not some sort of deep “arty” music that gives a sense of pretentiousness to independent films.  I was a little bit wary, however, when I found out their son had died recently, because I was afraid the story would become a cliché melodramatic movie that just goes through the motions to end with a happy ending. Sheridan mentioned he put that in the beginning because we will accept it, and he is right.  Movies become more personal as they go along, so to announce Frankie’s death later on in the film would seem almost like we were being lied to by not knowing sooner.   In retrospect, the things that happen to the characters, if done incorrectly, could have turned out to be cliché, but something about the story made it realistic and let me go on the journey with them, as opposed to watching it happen to them.

Part of the reason the film did not turn out as a clichéd story is because Sheridan used unknown actors.  As an audience member, I was thinking anything could happen to anyone of them at any time.  That allowed me to imagine what could happen, which only intensified my emotional reaction to the film even more.  Also, when there is a celebrity in a film, I tend to ignore the other actors, because they seem disposable next to someone famous.  With In America, I became attached to them all because I realized early on they are the main characters.

The filmmaker did an amazing job of making me love each of the characters as an individual and as a whole in a very short amount of time.  I realized this during the festival scene.  I cannot recall ever literally sitting on the edge of my seat and holding my breath while watching a movie, but when Johnny was trying to win the E.T. doll, that was exactly what I was doing.  To address Question 11, this scene was remarkable because I did not know movies could actually cause such intense emotions in me, and things like that stay in my memory.

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