US, 2009, 90 minutes. Colour.
Philip Johnson, Rosie O’ Donnell, Ruby Dee, Tim Rhoze, Jade Yorker, Raquel Castro.
Directed by Yves Simoneau.
America is a made-for-television film, focusing on the homeless and children of violent families.
America is the name of the central character, named in hope, but experiencing the worst in American society. His drug-addicted mother abandoned him, he was put into foster care, abused by one of the carers. He was placed in an orphanage and lived in institutions. However, help came in the form of a counsellor played by Rosie O’ Donnell (who produced the film). Philip Johnson, who had not acted before, is persuasive as the taciturn young America. Rosie O Donnell is her blunt interviewing self, a style that works very well for her character. Ruby Dee is the elderly lady who takes America into care. Tim Rhoze is the man who abuses him. Jade Yorker is his alienated half-brother. Raquel Castro is a sympathetic young woman also in the institution who befriends America.
The film was directed by Yves Simoneau, a veteran of many telemovies as is Joyce Eliason who co-wrote the script with Rosie O’ Donnell.
The film is a very earnest look at young people in difficulties and the possibilities for some kind of rehabilitation and affirmation.
1. A serious telemovie? The focus on social issues? Hope?
2. The title, the focus on the boy, the meaning of his name, American hopes, his name as a comment on American society and its difficulties?
3. The city settings, a city story, the slums, the courts, institutions, offices, realism, the musical score?
4. Audience attitude towards young people, homeless, orphans, lack of opportunities and affirmation, abuse? The final statistics – and the failure of society to help similar young people?
5. The focus on America, the flashbacks, his mother and her situation, leaving, the three young kids, orphans, the foster care, Mrs Harper, Reggie? The build-up of America’s experience? His secret? Taking Mrs Harper’s money, leaving? Reggie and his approach, the abuse, the secrecy? His killing Reggie and burning the house? His carrying this burden of anxiety and guilt?
6. America’s age, personality, introverted, the attempts to kill himself? Transferred to the institute? His hopes? Sharing the room with the timid Fish? His work in the laundry, the cafeteria, finding Brooklyn, discussing with Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s refusal? His friendship with Lisa, the attraction? Their talking, her cuts and explanation? Her positive approach? Her anger at America’s pessimism? Fish and his friendship? The rival young man, the attraction to Lisa, the dance? Lisa leaving? America’s fear? The personal encounter with Lisa?
7. Doctor Brennan, Rosie O’ Donnell and her style, tough, clear, saying okay, her treatment of America, listening, the silences, letting him leave early, building up his confidence and trust? The help, the interviews, his opening up? Lisa and Doctor B’s support? Helping him to work in the kitchen? Taking him to see Mrs Harper, his wariness, pleased to meet Mrs Harper? Her forgiveness? The opening up, the growing confidence, Doctor B. encouraging him to tell his secret? His fight in the kitchen? His putting on the shirt and ironing it for the visit to Mrs Harper?
8. Lisa, her character, background, cutting herself, the inner pain and the outer pain? Attraction to America, the bond between them, leaving?
9. Fish, his inadequacy, America’s support?
10. The dance, the rivalry? America and his disappointment with Lisa? The sexual approach, his fears, his memories of his experiences with Reggie?
11. Brooklyn, the three young children, Brooklyn growing up, work in the kitchen, coming to see America, unwilling to talk and remember?
12. Mrs Harper, kindly, aged, her care for America? His taking her money and leaving? The visit to the institution, her happiness in seeing him again, affirming him and forgiving him?
13. Reggie, seemingly genial, his approach, the abuse, the secret? Smoking in bed? His death? Mrs Harper and her saying that Reggie had a cigarette in bed?
14. The portrait of America – an alerting of audiences to these social problems?