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Screenwriter/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) tells the story of his family’s move to America as something of a fairy tale set in a sweltering and grimy apartment building where even the kind-hearted drug addicts help look out for the children.

Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) move to New York with their daughters Ariel and Christy (real-life sisters Emma and Sarah Bolger) from Canada, still shell-shocked from the loss of their son, Frankie.

Sarah is a teacher and Johnny is an actor, but the only jobs they can get are waitress and cab driver. They are struggling, sometimes even desperate and their surroundings are often sordid. But we see the story through the eyes of 11-year-old Christy and she makes it all magical. The girls insist on trick-or-treating in their apartment building, even at the door with a “keep away” sign, the home of an angry neighbor named Mateo (Djimon Hounsou). And he turns out to be not mean, just angry, bitter, and lonely — except that with the girls he is exquisitely tender.

Indeed, the whole movie is exquisitely tender. The girls’ sense of wonder brings a softness and a glow to whatever they see, whether it is a street fair or a broken-down air conditioner. Lovely, touching performances by all, especially the Bolger sisters and Hounsou, add delicacy and lyricism. The story may be predictable and it teeters on the edge of twee with its references to angels and aliens. But thankfully it is messy and episodic enough to capture the attention and even the heart.

Parents should know that the movie includes strong language, drinking, smoking, and drug use, violence, and very sad deaths. There is a sexual situation (and resulting childbirth). Tense moments include a violent confrontation and a serious health problem.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Christy thinks that Frankie can grant her three wishes and about the different ways that each character response to the loss of someone important to them. The movie may give families a chance to talk about their views on what happens after people die and how we talk to very ill people about what they are facing.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Hope and Glory and The Commitments (mature material).

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