In America is at least loosely based on the real life family experiences of the filmmakers—a father and two daughters. It is primarily a drama, with a little bit of lightness and whimsy here and there, and maybe even a little magical realism (or at least the narrator—one of the daughters—attributes things that happen to such supernaturalism.)
It is about a family of Irish immigrants who arrive in New York so the father can pursue his dream of being an actor. The family consists of a father and mother and two daughters about 10 and 7. They are trying to rebound emotionally from the recent death of their youngest child, a boy.
They have no money to speak of, and get about the worst apartment that exists in Manhattan, in a skid row building full of junkies. They remain very much on the edge financially, and the father makes no progress to speak of as an actor, because he has shut down emotionally in response to the death of his son. Then there are other tribulations to endure, including medical ones with hospital bills that they could not pay in a million years.
The movie is very much a celebration of family, of how through it all they have each other (and a key friend they make in the building) to rely on.
In America got almost all positive reviews, with the only caveats expressed being that it maybe gets a little too schmaltzy for some people at times.
I went into it with fairly high expectations, since I have a pretty high tolerance for sappy, romantic, heartwarming type material, if it’s sincere and well done. So the film’s only noted possible flaw didn’t put me off.
I found it to be mildly disappointing though. It’s OK, but I expected better than OK. Here and there it is indeed hokey and predictable.
It’s mostly a nice story, but I didn’t care about this family as much as I wanted to. Of movies I’ve seen and written about recently, for instance, the plight of the family in Where God Left His Shoes—also a movie about a family in dire straits trying to survive in New York—seemed more emotionally real and spoke to me more.
I’m inclined to give this movie a mild recommendation, because its heart is in the right place and it’s a well-made, very professional film, but also because of two other things that can be said in its favor.
One, the little girls are terrific. Now some of that is just that I’m the easiest audience in the world for cute little girls like that, because in my own personal life I’ve experienced a remarkable emotional awakening in recent years due to my love for three dear friends who are young girls around the same age as the daughters in this movie.
But these girls steal the movie, especially the younger one. They’re probably a little too good to be true, but not so unrealistically perfect as to be ridiculous.
Two, the film has a very nice ending. What’s especially impressive is that it’s predictable (in broad terms) what it will be, and it’s predictable that it will be a sentimental, tearjerker kind of scene, yet in spite of that, it hit me emotionally more than anything else in the film.
So In America has enough going for it that if you’re in the right mood for this kind of film it can be pretty good. But I do think relative to the reviews of it I perused, it’s a bit overrated.