It is with reservations that I give In America a four-star rating. As many things as there were to love about the film, there were almost as many annoyances. So maybe it's best to start with things I loved?
1. The acting was great, both from the kids and the adults. I especially liked Emma Bolger as younger daughter Ariel, and was stunned by Samantha Morton as mom Sarah. Morton is best remembered, by me anyway, as the only redeemable part of Minority Report. Also, she's got remarkable hair.
2. The story itself was nice--it was a tear-jerker, to be sure (I cried more than once), but it wasn't so damn unrelentless in it's depression-induction that I left wanting to kill myself.
3. The cinematography was very very good.
Now, things I didn't like:
1. No attention to realism in details--for example, if the radio station when they are driving into New York says they play the "best of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s," then why do they go to the movies to watch E.T.? More irritatingly, how are they easily driving a gigantic station wagon through Time Square? And perhaps worst of all, how in the hell am I supposed to believe that Mateo has late-stage AIDS? Look at his arms for Christ's sake! I'm supposed to believe he dies a few months after that?
2. At the very beginning of the film, the family "sneaks" into America from Ireland, with no green cards, etc. It's never really explained WHY they do this. I mean, you can draw conclusions, based on the rest of the film, but that's a pretty drastic thing to do for no explicit reason.
3. Was the white rapper in the cab really necessary?
But there was one thing that put the film over the line from me and turned an OK movie into a really good movie. There's a scene pretty early on where the family is at a carnival and Johnny, the dad, risks all of their savings/rent money/whatever to try to win his little girl a stuffed E.T. The tension, the crowd, the sinking feeling in your stomach--the whole scene was just freaking amazing. I felt like I was there.
So, all in all, it's definitely worth watching, even if your suspension of disbelief will have to be set very very high for minor details that easily could have been corrected. And I think it's great that Samantha Morton got an Oscar nod for if--the kind of performance she has here doesn't get recognized often enough, and she has a smile that makes you glad to be alive.