Some people claim to have strong, precise memories from their very earliest childhood. Me, it’s all a jumble. Am I really remembering an event, or am I remembering stories of it from long after? Or am I remembering photos of it? Often, that’s the most likely explanation, to my mind. My memories all seem to have that gauzy quality, like the square Instamatic photos my dad took, now faded and a little fuzzy, the tiny dates of processing printed along the border — APR 70, DEC 71 — stinging with impossible distance. And everyone in them is invariably laughing, the sun in their eyes, caught in a brief moment of exquisite joy.
The entirety of In America feels like that, the best parts of childhood worth remembering highlighted amongst misfortune and privation, filtered through tough and tender personalities that favor optimism and making the best of bad situations. There’s plenty of misery and unhappiness and not-
Director Jim Sheridan — who’s given us such typically pragmatic Irish stories as My Left Foot and The Field — loosely based In America on his own experience immigrating to New York in the early 80s with his wife and two daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, who, now filmmakers in their own right, wrote the screenplay with him. (A tragedy from Sheridan’s own childhood comes into the mix, too.) Here, it’s actor Johnny (Paddy Considine: 24 Hour Party People, Last Resort), looking to make it big in New York, who hauls wife Sarah (Samantha Morton: Minority Report, Jesus’ Son) and daughters Christy and Ariel (real-
It’s the two little girls — Christy is about 11, Ariel around 6 — that distill the magic from the mundane for us. Their apartment building is rundown and overrun with addicts, but in their eyes — and so in ours — it becomes a wonderfully gothic, delightfully haunted place; Ariel wonders if they can keep the pigeons flapping inside the open skylight of their top-
Keepsake childhood secrets and family tales that grow longer with every retelling: that’s the warmth that envelops even the moments that are stormy or scary or only dimly understood by the girls as important. The adventure of the air-
It’s like a treasure box of memories, is In America — someone else’s memories, sure, but ones that cut to the heart nevertheless, because they’re poignant and cherished and have been nourished into a kind of eternal, universal life.