AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
In America
Director: Jim Sheridan (Dir)
Release Date:   26 Nov 2003
Duration (in mins):  103
Print this page
Display Movie Detail

Cast: Paddy Considine  (Johnny [Sullivan])
  Samantha Morton  (Sarah [Sullivan])
  Sarah Bolger  (Christy [Sullivan])

Summary: 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. 

Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production Company: Hell's Kitchen Productions
Director: Jim Sheridan (Dir)
  Konrad Jay (1st asst dir)
  Michael Lerman (1st asst dir, New York unit)
  Karen Richards (2d asst dir)
  Carrie Fix (2d asst dir, New York unit)
  Therese Friel (2d asst dir, addl photog)
  Alyson Latz (2d 2d asst dir, New York unit)
  Raymond Kirk (3rd asst dir)
  Alexandra Jones (3rd asst dir, addl photog)
  Susan Stanley (Trainee asst dir)
  Jenny Maloney (Trainee asst dir, addl photog)
Producer: Jim Sheridan (Prod)
  Arthur Lappin (Prod)
  Paul Myler (Co-prod)
  Nye Heron (Assoc prod)
  Meredith Zamsky (Line prod NY unit)
Writer: Jim Sheridan (Wrt)
  Naomi Sheridan (Wrt)
  Kirsten Sheridan (Wrt)

Subject Major: Actors and actresses
  Death and dying
  Family life
  Financial crisis
  New York City
Subject Minor: AIDS (Disease)
  Air conditioning
  Aliens, Illegal
  Apartment buildings
  Cultural conflict
  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Motion picture)

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.