Director Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical In America tells the contemporary story of an Irish family who, devastated by the recent death of their only son, head to New York City with their two young daughters in tow. Johnny, the father, aspires to be an actor. In New York they find a home in the only place they can afford: a run-down fleabag of an apartment building that they share with other tenants and hangers-on who range from the strange to the dangerous. But this isn't a depressing story of a family on the skids. Told through the eyes of the older daughter, Christy, it's the story of a family seeking and finding a new life.
The run-down apartment becomes cheerful, not grim, and touches of color in dark places make it an oddly welcoming place. Much of the cheer comes from the two daughters, remarkably acted by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger. The girls become less than sunny only when reflecting on the past or on their father's emotional withdrawal. But they always snap out of it; for them, the move to America is an adventure, their new neighborhood not a place to be feared but a place to make new friends.
Neither parent has come completely to terms with the loss of their son. How they eventually do so, aided not only by their daughters' optimism but by a mysterious artist who lives in their building, ultimately forms the heart of the story. The acting is solid all around, the script and editing tight and crisp. The clean, low-grain photography reinforces the film's upbeat tone, and this is clearly evident in the fine video transfer. Colors are solid, there's excellent shadow detail (though the many dim scenes in the apartment won't be kind to video displays that have problems with dark images), and I saw no obvious edge enhancement. It is a little variable in the resolution department, however; some scenes are a little soft. The audio isn't overly showy, consisting primarily of naturally recorded dialog backed up by a pleasant score and ambient city sounds. You'll hardly notice the sound at all, and with this kind of film, that's a compliment.
The two versions of the film, 1.85:1 and 4:3, take up most of this two-sided disc; what extra features there are are spread out over both sides, but they aren't anything to write home about. In his fascinating commentary track, director Jim Sheridan explains how the story is based on his own experiences in coming to the US. There's a skimpy "Making of" documentary, an alternative ending, and nine deleted scenes, many of which are good but were best left out—they would have slowed the plot while adding little to it.
But with a film this good, the extras don't matter. Everything that's important is in the story itself.—TJN