The Boxer

Political Film Society awardwinner Jim Sheridan has directed many powerful biographical films, from In the Name of the Father (1993) to The Boxer (1998). In America, therefore, comes as somewhat of a surprise, showing a sentimentalism that doubtless informed his previous classics but was hidden from view. The story is loosely autobiographical, portraying Irish immigrants to America in New York during the early 1980s. Johnny (played by Paddy Considine) and Sarah (played by Samantha Morton) bring their two delightful daughters, six-year-old Ariel (played by Emma Bolger) and ten-year-old Christy (played by Sarah Bolger), but not their son Frankie. (The film is dedicated to the late Frankie Sheridan). At age two, Frankie fell down steps and developed a brain tumor; he died at the age of five. Everyone in the family mourns his loss and cannot find a way to bury his memory, at least throughout most of the film. The story is episodic rather than unilinear, that is, there is no goal other than that of surviving the uncertainties and complexities of daily life in America for unassimilated newcomers who at least can speak the language. Occasional voiceovers from Christy help to lighten the heavy dose of reality that falls on a family that, as a first principle, knows the importance of sticking together. The first episode is about how they get across the border as illegal aliens, driving from Canada. Next, they find a dingy apartment in Hell’s Kitchen (now the name of Sheridan’s film company), and they attempt to make the rooms habitable. Johnny, of course, looks for a job, but his acting ability is found wanting, so he ends up driving a taxi. Unable to beat the 100 degree heat in their first New York summer, Johnny dodges traffic one day to carry home a workable used air conditioner and then scrounges for $1.99 to buy an adapter so that the treasured contraption will fit into an old fashioned socket, only to produce a power outage for the entire building. At Coney Island, Jim risks a lot of money, even rent money lovingly provided by his wife Sarah, just to win an ET doll for his daughter. Jim then pretends to be a monster in order to seduce his willing wife, who then survives a difficult pregnancy to bear their third daughter. Unable to afford store-bought costumes for their daughters, the two show up at a school competition with homemade costumes. Ariel and Christy then attempt to “trick or treat” in their ramshackle apartment building, but the only one interested is a terminally ill reclusive Black artist, Mateo (played by Djimon Hounsou), whom they enchant with their spontaneous merriment, so his last days are spent far more happily as he in effect joins the Sheridans as a family member. When he dies, once again Frankie’s memory revisits the Sheridans, but the film ends as that nightmare turns into an uplifting dream, thanks to Ariel’s imaginative genius. Feel-good movies are expected during the holiday season, and In America does not disappoint. Jim Sheridan, who returned to Ireland with his family after twenty years in America, reveals his great love for his daughters, Kirsten and Naomi, by crediting them as cowriters of the script. MH

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