Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reel (Un)american Heroes

Bouncing off my earlier post, I've started thinking about cultural exchange in reverse -- not just great models of American values, but immigrants to the United States who win us over, occasionally by employing traits characteristic of their national cultures, but more commonly by employing alarmingly high levels of Pluck and Determination and Charm. Running the gamut from silly to tragic, the immigrant movie generally follows the story of an individual or group that struggles to adjust to American society. Either they learn to acculturate and blend their cultural legacy with rapid adaptation to U.S. norms or they go down like a sack of cement. (See Bread and Roses, Coming to America, The Godfather, Goodbye Solo, El Norte, and, oh, so many more....)

The bronze medal in this category goes to Ariel, the youngest daughter of an Irish immigrant family in 2002's In America. Pound-for-pound, she packs more Irish charm into every frame than any other character in the movie.

On the silver podium, Tarek, in The Visitor, softened Professor Vale's shriveled prune of a heart with his sunny outlook and enthusiastic percussion stylings. If only they'd had the same effect on the NYPD....

But the gold in this category has to be reserved for E.T. Despite some unusual customs and the odd glowing appendage, E.T. managed to fit right in with a typical American family -- until those creepy guys in the exterminator suits showed up. His childlike appreciation for life's simple pleasures (by which I mean television and candy) endeared him to a generation of young Americans. I can't be the only one who burnt my fingers on piping hot E.T. Shrinky Dinks.

Once again, I'm opening the floor to additional commentary. Which other movie characters have won the hearts and minds of American audiences?

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