In America DVD Review

Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
This movie has a lot of spirit, charm, and sentimentality. It’s not a jump out and grab you by the you-know-what’s kind of film, but what it doesn’t have in the big action department it makes up for in the clever and honest portrayal of this very strong, very admirable family. The cover isn’t a bold work of art or anything, but it’s appropriate for this feel good drama.

The menus look pretty cool with video clips from the movie as the backdrop. I wouldn’t say they were overly planned out or anything, but a menu really just needs to be functional. Anything else is a bonus.

Extras: 7/10

  • Commentary By Director Jim Sheridan – Director commentary is always cool, especially when the director is also the writer and the man behind the leading character. This director wrote an autobiographical story about his family coming to America and now has put it to film. Listening to him talk about how each scene is made and how it reflects or doesn’t reflect the “real story” is a good way to add on to this already excellent movie.
  • 9 Deleted Scenes – I’m a wishy-washy fan of deleted scenes. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I’m not that impressed, either because they should have been in the movie to add something, or because they wouldn’t have added to the movie at all. These scenes aren’t missed in the final cut and as the director himself said, he wonders if he cut enough…haha not very sentimental I guess.
  • Making Of Featurette – It’s brief, it’s short, it’s way too short. This little extra is a great idea, but they didn’t do enough with it. I know this story has an interesting history and the people behind it have a real success story to tell. They have included a bit of a discussion with the director/writer, but other than that you don’t get a lot of info about the making of the movie. It felt like one of those shorts that they stick on HBO to promote a movie that will be showing the next month, you know what I’m talking about, and that just isn’t enough of an extra for such an excellent movie.
  • Alternate Ending (10th Deleted Scene) – This is not your traditional alternate ending, if we have such a thing. It’s just a little tiny bit that was cut out of the final scene of the movie.

Movie: 10/10
First of all, this is a story driven film. There aren’t any big effects, explosions, or fancy camera work. We are talking straight on story telling with a beautiful sense of color and shot design. There is an artistic sensibility to a lot of the scenes which amplifies the emotions, but doesn’t outshine the characters. Now, on with the story portion of the review.

Triumph over adversity. Striving for the American Dream. Against all odds. Fish out of water. Love conquers all. These are all terms we use to describe different types of stories that are told through books, movies, even fairy tales. Usually there is an element of the fantastic or mystical thrown in to get the hero through it all, and usually that’s what the story needs. “In America” is a pure, straight forward, non-miracle driven story of a family who doesn’t just triumph over adversity, strive for the American Dream, overcome against all odds, learn to fit in, or let love conquer all. They forge ahead with quiet humility and a bravery that would overwhelm most people. They simply live their new live in America day to day, trouble to trouble and ride out the storm of bad times with nothing more than hope and a bit of stubbornness to their name. They do all this with what most of us overlook these days, community. The neighborhood they live in is not the kind of community most of us would consider safe to live in, let alone get to know the people well enough to rely on what kindness they have to offer.

This family has a hint of innocence, but a lot of gutsy wisdom about how to survive. Two parents dealing with the loss of a child is more than most “real” people could bare in life, and yet they have put it in perspective, or so it seems. They know in their minds they have to move on, but in their hearts it’s like a dam that is about to break apart with full force. To bring their lives back into a manageable reality, the father is a struggling actor and the mother works in an ice cream shop to make a living. At one point their optimism comes face to face with their poverty when Dad decides to wager all their money on an ET doll in a game of chance at a fair. It’s a glimmer of what bonds this family together, the idea that we may lose it all, but we’ll just start again. Never give up or give in to hopelessness.

They live in what looks like a castle on the top, but quickly disintegrates into a slum as soon you get past the faded architectural glory. In an apartment most of us spoiled Americans wouldn’t even think of living in, let alone with a family, they turn slum into sublime. With painted walls covered with colors and designs, textures and fabrics, and second hand furniture with lots of character, they make a cozy oasis in the middle of a comfortless environment.

Everything takes work, effort, and more stamina than any of us think we have, but this family doesn’t waiver. Even with the loss of their son, being broke in America, a father without work, two daughters who need attention, and mounting financial responsibilities they seem to know the most important thing is to survive happily. Not just survive day to day, but to be happy with what they have, which is each other. The Dad takes a night job as a cabby to pay for Catholic school for the girls. The mom makes Halloween costumes that give the daughters some sense of belonging (even if they are the only home made costumes at the party). Dad hooks up a hose to the shower, which sits in the middle of their living room, for a hot summer’s day fun when discovery an American tradition, summertime humidity.

The performances in this movie are absolutely perfect. I don’t say that lightly. I was blown away by every single person who put what seemed like their top effort into their roles. I want to see everyone again and again in different movies. I don’t really need to elaborate on “perfect:” now do I?

I’m not an overtly sappy person. I was touched by more than just the sweet little girls. I was moved by more than the mother with a broken spirit but who tucks it away for the sake of her family. And I was amused and inspired by more than the father who drags an air conditioner down the middle of the street and carries it up several flights of stairs to make his family a bit more comfortable. I was moved by the feeling of, “could I overcome these things, or am I too spoiled?” I would like to think I could start from scratch and pull myself back up, but unless the man who wrote this script came along and wrote out my life for me, I don’t think I could. This story is based on the writer’s real life, so this isn’t a tall tale. That makes it that much more entertaining and emotionally rousing.

All of these things are not just charming moments in a movie. These are the things that people do to get through their lives when they are stripped of everything else and have only themselves and their family to cling to. There’s something inspirational about the way they accept their junkie neighbors and graffiti ridden building. They make no fuss about having to walk up several flights of stairs because the elevator in the building, of course, doesn’t work. They even accept the “screaming man” who’s door is painted with the words, “stay away”.

The screaming man is an element in the story that is even more of a testament to the fortitude of these people. The young daughters try to trick or treat in their building but no one will answer their doors. They decide to pound on the “stay away” door until someone answers. They don’t back down, they don’t give up and in the end, that is the determination that opens them up to the goodness in the people in a place where goodness doesn’t seem possible. It also opens them up to a side of our America that most of us like to put aside and pretend doesn’t exist. Does the American Dream exist in a slum, crime infested neighborhood in New York City? That depends on the person with the dream I suppose.

Value: 8/10
To tell you the truth I didn’t even look up the price of this one. You want to know why? Well, I don’t actually care what it costs because I want this movie on my shelf regardless. I know it will be more than I normally want to spend, but it’s well worth it to have this gem of a family drama to look back on every now and then. I won’t let the lack of extras or the price lower the overall score on this DVD. It’s not packed with stuff and it’s not hitting the stores at a bargain basement price, but sometimes the movie overrides all of that.

Overall Score 8/10