A World of Hurt
After spending his entire life in and out of foster homes and living with his addict mother, America (Philip Johnson) finds himself placed in a residential youth treatment center with other troubled teens having earlier tried to kill himself. Quiet and angry America finds himself being befriended by Liza (Raquel Castro - Jersey Girl) and treated by psychiatrist Dr. Maureen Brennan (Rosie O'Donnell) who patiently helps him open up about the secrets and pains he hides in order to move on with his life.
TV movies tend to get a bad rap, people think they are all inferior movies which steal ideas from the big screen and rehash them on a lesser budget with lesser stars. But not all TV movies are equal and when you come across a movie such as "America" you realise that there are some stunning movies on TV which are entertaining, insightful and well made.
Now "America" is two things starting with a look at the life of this older teen called America who following a suicide attempt is placed in a residential facility. We learn all about how he was removed from his crack addict mother at a young age and spent his entire life shifting between homes where he suffered abuse and loss. He also suffered disappointment when the kindly old Mrs Harper wanted to adopt him but couldn't. The second thing is that it is a look at the foster system in America and how when at a certain age those with no homes are aged out and end up living rough.
These two things combine to create an insightful as well as hard hitting drama with director Yves Simoneau employing a more independent style than you would normally find in TV movies. But the stand out thing about "America" is Philip Johnson the young man cast just two days before production started to play America and is so natural that at times you forget you are watching a movie. His movements, the way he stares and slumps down in a chair speaks volumes of who he is and how he feels. It makes America a very interesting character who evolves over the course of the movie thanks to friendships and the sessions with Brennan. Talking of which it is a typically strong performance from O'Donnell and one which allows Johnson to be the focus who works well with Raquel Castro who plays the friendly Liza who helps bring him out of his shell.
What this all boils down to is that "America" isn't like most TV movies, it has a far better style and a far better storyline than most TV movies. But what captures you the most about this movie is the brooding performances of Philip Johnson who is captivating in his naturalness. That doesn't take anything away from the story which is eye opening but this is Johnson's move.