In this modernized version of immigration to America, director Jim Sheridan
starts out by showing us that it doesn't necessarily include that classic
moment when the boat crosses before the Statue of Liberty or that the
travelers need be part of the downtrodden masses. In the case of the
family here, a trip from Ireland by way of Canada brings the new arrivals
into a slum part of Manhattan east of Harlem by way of a road trip in a worn
The motivation behind the relocation isn't tyrannical threats of a despotic
political system. Instead, it seems to be an attempt to flee painful
memories of a dead child, a tragedy that affects all four: dad Johnny (Paddy
Considine), mom Sarah (Samantha Morton) and the two girls: 11 year-old
narrator Christy (Sarah Bolger) and little Ariel (Emma Bolger). Real life
sisters, these two will get the heartstrings in motion the minute they make a
play on words regarding the gender preferences in a city called "Man-hattan."
These are cutesies with talent beyond expectation.
Again update-wise, the breadwinner doesn't go out looking for a job on a
production line or as a welder's assistant. He's an actor and he goes to
auditions. Plus, the girls help him read his lines. This is 2002.
From the get-go, trust becomes a major issue, one that applies to their
landing in an apartment of a building honeycombed with drug dealers and
street denizens. Not the ideal for the sensitive eyes and ears of pre-teen
children. These, though, are no ordinary creatures. They are precocious
beyond belief. And, it's they who tend to break barriers in the family's
contacts with fellow tenants, and foster understandings that become
Most notable is the bond that develops with black artist, HIV victim, Mateo
(Djimon Hounsou) who lives in an apartment one flight down. Forebodingly big
and threatening looking, his is the last door the parents would want their
offspring to knock on for Halloween trick or treat, but the knock of
innocence on a door that says, "Go Away", and their charging in with eyes
that see no danger, develops into a bond of warmth and trust.
All of which is to the good as each family member struggles with the tragic
death of son, Frankie, an issue that is Sheridan's central one for
resolution. But, as he weaves that theme through the family's highs and
lows, the standout in this semi-autobiographical tale is the performance by
the Bolger sisters. The writing may be sentimental to the occasional point
of triteness, but these girls have such a sense of reality that they
convey it all with a delivery that's nothing but endearing and honest.
Despite Samantha Morton's attractive spirit, Considine's devoted fatherhood,
and Hounsou's dominating presence, the sister's are the show. It's as though
everything else is the packaging for the gift of their performance. And,
despite what may sound like directorial indulgence here or there, no true
off notes spoil the uplifting pattern of this original take on an immigrant
story of love and hope. It may take place in a setting of grit and despair,
but it is 180 degrees away from impoverished poor stereotypes of an earlier
Before we go talking about award possibilities here, let me be the first to
put these child actresses at the top of the Best Supporting list.
~~ Jules Brenner