Cast & Crew
In the summer of 1982, young Irish couple Johnny and Sarah Sullivan cross the border from Canada into the United States, hoping to start a new life in New York with their young daughters, Ariel and Christy, as they recover from the death of their four-year-old son Frankie. Although the Sullivans plan to live in New York, they do not have the proper visas and nervously hope that the American border guards will believe that they are just "on holiday." As the guards question the family, Christy thinks of a dream she had in which Frankie said that she could have three wishes, and uses the first by wishing that they could cross the border. After the family is waved ahead, they drive into New York and soon are entranced by the magic of the city's neon lights. With very little money, Johnny and Sarah have difficulty finding a place to live and wind up in a dilapidated apartment building inhabited by an assortment of tenants, including drug dealers and a mysterious man known as "the man who screams." Although Sarah is a teacher, she is only able to get work as a waitress in "Heaven," a nearby coffee shop. Johnny is an actor, but is unable to find work in the theater, despite attending numerous auditions. Undeterred by the hardships, the girls enjoy the bleak surroundings of their large, top floor apartment. The independent, older daughter, Christy, spends much of her time looking through the lens of a camcorder, both taking videos and watching those she had taken of Frankie and the family in happier days. As a heat wave continues, Johnny brings home an old air conditioner, which he eventually gets to work, but it immediately causes the building's electricity to go out. The family then goes to an air-conditioned movie theater where they enjoy seeing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial . After the movie, Ariel complains that she has no one to play with because Christy "tells her secrets" to the camcorder and Johnny does not play the way he did before Frankie died. Later, the family goes to a carnival where Johnny incrementally risks all of the family's money on a game of chance to win an E.T. doll for Ariel. When Johnny bets all of their rent money on the doll, Christy thinks of Frankie and asks him to grant her second wish. Johnny then wins the doll and is able to keep his money, after which the elated family goes home. As they enter their apartment, Johnny is playing blind man's bluff with the girls, when he suddenly stops, emotionally confessing to Sarah that he was looking for Frankie. Sarah then tells the children to go to her friend Marina at Heaven. Sarah conceives a child during her tender lovemaking with Johnny but afterward cries, blaming herself for Frankie's fall down the stairs. Ariel and Christy attend a local Catholic school in the fall, while Johnny, who still has not gotten any acting jobs, begins working as a cab driver. On Halloween, Sarah makes the girls homemade costumes for a school pageant. The girls are the only children in school with homemade costumes, and when the nuns give the girls special awards for the best homemade costumes, Christy is angry, telling her parents that they only gave them the prize because they felt sorry for them. Later, the girls want to go trick-or-treating like American children, but Sarah and Johnny, fearing for their safety, insist that they stay within the apartment building. The only tenant who answers Ariel and Christy's knock at the door is the man who screams. When he sees the little girls, he looks up at Sarah and smiles, after which he invites the girls in. He tells them that his name is Mateo and allows them to look at his paintings. When he opens his refrigerator, the girls see a number of medications, then Ariel tells Mateo about Frankie, who died two years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Mateo starts to cry and gives the girls a jar of change for their "treat." That night, Sarah invites Mateo for dinner and serves Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish. Mateo gets a coin and a plastic ring buried in the dish, which the children say is a sign of very good luck. Johnny does not warm to Mateo as do the girls and Sarah, but nevertheless allows them to keep a painting of angels that Mateo has given the family. He also learns that Mateo is apparently well off and has a wife and a son. As Sarah's pregnancy progresses, her doctor warns her that the baby cannot go to full-term as it would be very dangerous for both Sarah and the baby. Later, at the apartment, Sarah and Johnny argue when he accuses her of wanting to have another baby to replace Frankie, and she tells him that he cannot get any acting jobs because he cannot feel. When Johnny angrily leaves the apartment, Mateo sees him and asks why he does not "believe." Johnny snarls that he once asked God for a favor, then accuses Mateo of being in love with Sarah. When Mateo answers that he is in love with everything that lives, Johnny realizes that he is dying and apologizes. After this, the family, even Johnny, becomes closer to Mateo. One night, when Mateo falls unconscious, Christy tries to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Although Ariel worries that Christy will get the terrible disease that Mateo has, Christy does not regret what she has done. As the cold winter months arrive, Mateo becomes weaker and is cared for by Sarah, Johnny and the children. Mateo jokes with the girls that he is an "alien" and, like E.T., is going home, but promises to say goodbye. A short time later, Sarah goes into the hospital. While Johnny tries to take care of the girls and rehearse for an audition, he anguishes about the $5,000 that a hospital administrator says he will need "by Friday." When Johnny tucks the girls in that night, Ariel worries about Johnny, who will not kneel down and say prayers with them. After Sarah and Johnny's baby girl is born, she desperately needs a blood transfusion. An hysterical Sarah lashes out at Johnny and screams that it was his fault that Frankie died because he insisted on putting a gate on the stairs, not realizing that the toddler would try to climb it and fall. She also says if the baby dies, she does not want to wake up. Because the baby needs O negative blood, Christy offers to be the donor. Although they are worried that she might have contracted Mateo's terrible disease, Christy is undaunted and tells her father that she has been carrying the family on her back for over a year, then asks why no one noticed. As Johnny leaves the hospital, the administrator walks past him and says "your check bounced." Johnny then goes to another hospital, where Mateo is near death. Johnny confesses to Mateo that after Frankie died he promised he would never cry again, then returns to the apartment building where he has a violent scuffle with a homeless man to whom he had been giving money. The next day, the baby awakens and has passed the crisis, but at the same time, Mateo dies. Later, when Johnny goes to talk to the hospital administrator about the bill, which has grown to over $30,000, she tells him that it was paid by Mateo. As Christy had promised Mateo, they name the baby after him, Sarah Mateo Sullivan. At the baby's baptismal party, because Ariel is sad that Mateo never said goodbye, Johnny decides to take her onto the fire escape and show her the moon, telling her that if she looks closely, she will see Mateo waving as he rides past the moon on his bicycle, just like E.T. When Ariel calls out "look after Frankie," Johnny starts to cry as he, too, says goodbye to Frankie, fulfilling Christy's third wish. Sarah and Johnny then embrace, and Christy switches off her camcorder because she now only wants to remember Frankie in her head.
Michael Sean Tighe
Rodrigo Pineda Sanchez
Gabriela Quintero Lopez
Danny Aiello Iii
Joan B. Benjamin
Joseph Buonocore Jr.
Philip C. Canfield
Bronwyn R. Clohissey
John F. Davis
Angel Deangelis Haiko
John P. Dolan
James Finnerty Jr.
K. Scott Gertsen
J. W. V. Goethe
Cort Hessler Iii
Best Original Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
The film's working title was East of Harlem. The story was narrated throughout by the offscreen voice of Sarah Bolger as her character, "Christy Sullivan." End credit acknowledgments thank a number of organizations and individuals, and note the inclusion of film clips from the 1982 Steven Spielberg-directed Universal release E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the 1939 John Ford-directed The Grapes of Wrath and the 1958 Kurt Neumann-directed The Fly, both released by Twentieth Century-Fox. The film E.T. and the toy "E.T." doll, which was extremely popular after the film's release, are referenced at several points within In America.
In America was inspired by actual events in the life of director-writer Jim Sheridan, who in 1982 moved with his wife and two young daughters to New York and lived there until 1988. Sheridan co-wrote the screenplay with his daughters Naomi and Kirsten, who were respectively represented by the characters "Ariel" and Christy in the film. Although a central theme of the film is the family's grief over the death of their young son "Frankie," and the film's credits include the dedication "To the memory of Frankie Sheridan," the real Frankie was not Sheridan's son, but his younger brother, who died at the age of ten, when Sheridan was seventeen. Like the film's Frankie, the real Frankie died of a brain tumor.
In interviews, Sheridan has stated that the character of "Johnny Sullivan" is a composite of himself and his own father, as well as fictional elements. According to the film's pressbook, two incidents recounted in the film were taken from Sheridan's own life, although somewhat altered: Sheridan stated in interviews that he stole an old air conditioner during a New York heat wave and lost their rent money trying to win a carnival doll. These incidents are dramatized within In America, but it is not made clear how Johnny acquired the air conditioner and, although Johnny risks their rent money, he wins the doll and keeps their money.
The film's pressbook and various published interviews with Sheridan state that he had been developing the idea for the film for ten years following a chance encounter with a former "Hell's Kitchen" neighbor. The incident took place in 1990, while Sheridan was in Los Angeles attending the Academy Awards ceremony as a Best Director nominee for his 1989 film My Left Foot. Interviews and the pressbook also state that Sheridan and his two daughters wrote independent drafts of the screenplay based on their own recollections, and compared them at various intervals.
Within the film, the character of Christy spends much of her time looking through the lens of a home video recorder, taking pictures and reviewing videos from the past. The actual video camera used within the film was a newer and smaller version than would have been available in 1982, when home video cameras were much larger, heavier and less manageable for a child to use. Sheridan stated in interviews that the video camera, like some of the film's music, was deliberately made anachronistic to give the film a more timeless feeling. Although it is implied within the film that "Mateo" had AIDS, his disease is never identified.
According to an item in the Daily Variety "Dish" column on March 8, 2001, British actress Kate Winslet was originally to portray "Sarah" in the film, but scheduling conflicts that arose after the production was pushed back following the actors' strike prevented her taking the role. Christy and Ariel were portrayed by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger. Emma made her feature film debut in the picture. According to the pressbook, Emma, who auditioned first, insisted that Sheridan also audition her older sister. Although in the original screenplay the character Christy was about three years older than the then ten-year-old Sarah, Sheridan was so impressed with her that he changed the character's age.
Most of the film's interiors, plus some exteriors, such as the carnival sequence, were shot in Dublin and at Ardmore Studios in Ireland. Most of the exteriors were shot at various seasons in New York City. According to the film's pressbook, the location for the tenement building, a principal interior in the story, was actually an old Irish castle that was made to appear like a run-down New York apartment.
The film was well received in various film festival appearances and in its North American openings. According to a Los Angeles Times news item on November 8, 2003, Fox Searchlight Pictures was planning to send out movie tickets to the film to approximately 25,000 movie awards voters throughout the U.S. This was done in response to a late 2003 ban on movie "screeners" that was instituted by the MPAA in an attempt to curtail video piracy.
In addition to being named one of the ten best films of the year by AFI, and being named "Audience Favorite" at the November 2003 AFI Fest, In America received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Actress (Samantha Morton), Best Supporting Actor (Djimon Hounsou) and Best Original Screenplay. The picture also received two Golden Globe nominations, one for Jim, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan for Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, and one for Bono, Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer for Best Original Song-Motion Pictures for "Time Enough for Tears." The Sheridans won a Best Screenplay Critics' Choice Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
The picture was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review and was the recipient of the Producers Guild of America's Stanley Kramer Award, which honors a company, individual or production that addresses provocative social issues in an uplifting fashion. Independent Spirit Awards were presented to Hounsou for Best Supporting Male and to Declan Quinn for Best Cinematography. Additional Independent Spirit nominations included Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Female Lead (Morton) and Best Supporting Female (Sarah Bolger).
Nominated for the 2003 award for Best Original Screenplay by the Writer's Guild of America (WGA).
Nominated for the 2004 Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) award for Best Ensemble Cast.
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2003 by the American Film Institute (AFI).
Winner of the Audience Award at the 2003 AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival November 6-16, 2003.
Limited Release in United States November 26, 2003
Released in United States Fall November 26, 2003
Released in United States January 2003
Released in United States May 2003
Released in United States November 2003
Released in United States on Video May 11, 2004
Shown at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (Special Screenings) May 3-11, 2003.
Released in United States January 2003 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres) January 16-26, 2003.)
Released in United States May 2003 (Shown at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (Special Screenings) May 3-11, 2003.)
Released in United States on Video May 11, 2004
Released in United States November 2003 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Special Screening) November 6-16, 2003.)
Limited Release in United States November 26, 2003
Released in United States Fall November 26, 2003
Hell's Kitchen is Jim Sheridan's production company.