Detailing the economic fall of a phased-out factory worker, HIDDEN IN AMERICA criticizes the fraying American Dream with straightforward passion.
Impoverished, sickly Willa (Jena Malone) loves to play at the upper-middle-class home of her schoolmate, Caroline (Allegra Denton), daughter of pediatrician Michael (Bruce Davison). Willa's ill health stems from poor nutrition: since being laid off from his factory job and the death of his wife
seven months ago, Willa's dad, Bill (Beau Bridges), barely makes enough money flipping burgers to support her and her self-reliant brother Robbie (Sheldon Dane). Though lacking a high school diploma, Bill is too proud to go to a local food bank; when Michael volunteers at a clinic, Bill refuses to
accept his medical charity.
Robbie plays hooky from school to help mechanic Gus (Frances McDormand) recondition an auto they plan to sell for a good profit. Robbie loses respect for his dad when he quits his fast food job for another one that falls through. At an uncomfortable get-together at Michael's home, Bill reveals the
depth of his despair; though Michael lines up employment possibilities, they won't start soon enough to ease his situation. As Willa's health worsens, Bill is forced to apply for emergency food stamps despite the blow to his pride. When Gus's daughter wrecks the revamped car in an accident, Robbie
abandons all hope of bailing out his family. Having found a construction job on his own, Bill is gainfully employed, but his break almost comes too late: despondent about his family's situation, Robbie attempts suicide by hanging. After this near-tragedy, Bill's family ultimately recovers.
Plainly structured and executed, HIDDEN IN AMERICA wears its heart on its sleeve. We are moved by the simple depiction of poverty rather than a screenwriter's manipulation of dramatic events. Although the script non-judgmentally implicates Bill for refusing to accept governmental assistance, the
real culprit here is clearly the bottom-line mentality of American businesses. The prime artistic shortcoming of this worthy endeavor is that this family seems rather generic, as if handfuls of case studies had been boiled down into one representative family. Given skimpily written types to
embody, the cast does wonders with its characterizations, especially Dane as the prematurely mature Robbie, whose faith in his father and the future is eroded by the stakes of survival. By boxing loving dad Bill into an untenable position, HIDDEN IN AMERICA edifies viewers with a cautionary tale
about how short the journey is from "getting by" to scrounging for edibles in a dumpster. Rather than emphasize the victimhood of the disenfranchised, this film beautifully uncovers quiet heroism and ordinary miracles. (Violence, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Detailing the economic fall of a phased-out factory worker, HIDDEN IN AMERICA criticizes the fraying American Dream with straightforward passion. Impoverished, sickly Willa (Jena Malone) loves to play at the upper-middle-class home of her schoolmate, Caro… (more)