""I like to be in America!"" chirruped the kids in West Side Story, an all-warbling, all-hoofing story of immigrants, flick knives and doomed love. Irish director Jim Sheridan's take on arriving in the great US of A may not have the knives or the dancing, but it's a beautifully played comedy-cum-tearjerker with just as much passion about pursuing the American Dream.
Crossing the Canadian border in a knackered old banger, wannabe actor Johnny (Paddy Considine) arrives in New York with his wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) and daughters Christy and Ariel (sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger). They've escaped Ireland in search of fame and fortune, and to distract themselves from the sadness of the past, their youngest boy having died of a brain tumour. Johnny takes a job as a cabbie and moves the family into a rundown building populated by junkies and transvestites, where the kids befriend Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), the temperamental artist who lives below them.
Jim Sheridan has only directed five films in his 14-year career, but since they include the remarkable My Left Foot and In The Name Of The Father, it's wise to take notice whenever he releases something new. Narrated through the eyes of Christy, who's been granted three wishes by her dead brother, this captivating little movie is based on Sheridan's own experiences of arriving in New York City (the director's daughters co-wrote the script). High points include a tension-crammed race to find an air-conditioning unit (you'll have to trust us on that one) and lots of cutesy stuff from the girls as they mind their daddy's cab, playing havoc with the radio.
Okay, so In America's feel-good vibe eventually threatens to go too far, the story descending into mystical mumbo jumbo in its final reel, but the magical realism makes for a striking contrast to Martin Scorsese's brutal, bombastic vision in Gangs Of New York. What's more, Sheridan's movie has just enough charm to pull it all off with a flourish. A sparkling effort, full of tears and smiles.
Funny, tragic and ever so slightly sickly, this immigrant drama flirts with being too pat but emerges as a sweet-natured heart-warmer. Make the trip.