Directed By: Éva Gárdos
Written By: Éva Gárdos
Produced By: Colleen Camp, Bonnie Timmermann
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Tony Goldwyn, Nastassja Kinski, Emmy Rossum, Mae Whitman, Larisa Oleynik
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 106 minutes
Review Date: September 3, 2010
Growing up is hard. Then, throw in the Cold War, new parents, a foreign land (and language), and teen years. An American Rhapsody documents the life of a baby, Suzanne (Scarlett Johansson), after her parents flee Hungary upon the arrival of the Cold War. Suzanne’s sister Maria (played at various stages by Mae Whitman, Emmy Rossum, and Larisa Oleynik) escapes with their parents, as well, but since Suzanne is a newborn, her parents arrange for a different route to get her to America.
Naturally, things do not go as planned and Suzanne is sent to live with a new family in the rural part of Hungary. For years (nearly six), her mother writes letters to every American of importance pleading for help. Eventually, the Red Cross hears her cries and helps bring Suzanne back from Hungary to reunite with her biological family in the sunny hills of California.
Suzanne, a precocious five-and-a-half year-old, leaves Hungary not knowing she will not return (what child could possibly understand what was happening?). She never has the chance to pack up valuables or say goodbye to the only parents she truly knew of.
Naturally, Suzanne grows into a wild and rebellious teen, never really finding her place in the world and in her family. This constant lost feeling prompts Suzanne to return to Hungary and reunite with her first mother and father.
The story of Suzanne is heart wrenching, as is the one of her biological parents and her pseudo-adoptive parents. The viewer sits there not knowing which story to root for as there is no true “bad guy” in any of these tales. At times you wonder how Suzanne could possibly treat and talk to her parents in the manners that she does, but then recall the unfinished business with her adoptive parents.
Johansson shines in this role, solely engulfing the persona of Suzanne. She shows you the hurt, betrayal, and confusion she feels while she’s acting out towards her parents. You see these underlying emotions in every action, making you painfully aware of the motives unbeknownst to her. Seeing her feel her way through her old land of Hungary is awe-inspiring. You feel like you are walking the streets of Budapest (or Budapestch) only to find the place is not how you imagined, just like Suzanne finds.
I really enjoyed Suzanne’s father, Peter (Tony Goldwyn). He seems to be the only one in the family on Suzanne’s side once she finally arrives in the U.S., though he’s distant and very passive in the years preceding Suzanne’s arrival. You wonder what softened him in the relationships with his daughters. Was it the California sun? The American way of life? The family’s eagerness to put the Hungarian life in the past? As Peter is the one who allows Suzanne to return to Hungary, you see just how far he has come in his relationship with Suzanne and his subtle hope that she, too, will find some realization for herself.
An American Rhapsody takes the viewer on quite an enriched tale, hitting all spectrums of emotions and feelings.
Hanna Soltys is a green tea drinker and film critic living in Chicago.