Sunday, December 18, 2016

There and Back Again

Film: Brooklyn
Format: HBO on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I look at the movies that I still have left on my Oscars list, I see that I have a habit of leaving a Best Picture nominee or two from each year unwatched for some time. Evidently, that’s not going to be the case for 2015, as Brooklyn is the last one I have left. I’ve had this saved on the DVR for a cou

cple of months and have just now gotten around to it. There’s no particular reason other than the realization that my DVR is getting old and that I have a lot saved that I should watch before it goes legs-up and dies on my with all of those recordings unwatched.

I think my reticence for watching Brooklyn comes from not really being that interested in the story as it is depicted. Certainly there is a family connection of a sort here, one I’ve mentioned before. My grandmother came to the States from Denmark on her own when she was 16 (possibly 14; we’re not really sure) to a new country where she didn’t speak the language or really know a soul. In a sense, Brooklyn is less impressive than what my grandmother did. Our main character her is older and already speaks the language.

Eilis (pronounced AY-lish and played by Saoirse Ronan) lives in a small town in Ireland and discovers that her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for her to emigrate to New York thanks to the intervention of Irish priest-turned New Yorker Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Eilis goes, has a rough passage over the Atlantic, and eventually finds a place in Brooklyn and a job at a department store. Father Flood arranges for her to take night classes in bookkeeping and very slowly, Eilis becomes accustomed to life in New York. It’s hard going for her. She feels alone and somewhat ostracized at her boarding house despite the gruff but gentle landlord, Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters).

One night at a dance, Eilis meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), who admits to being 100% Italian, but attends Irish dances because he likes Irish girls. The two are soon an item and Eilis has started to realize that she might actually make a life for herself in America. Then tragedy strikes. Eilis’s sister Rose dies suddenly of unknown causes and Eilis is forced to return to Ireland to look after her mother, at least for a time. Eilis and Tony wed in secret before she goes, telling no one.

Once back in Ireland, Eilis is suddenly central to what appears to be a massive matchmaking scheme to get her married to wealthy and eligible bachelor Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), which would keep her in Ireland and set up her mother for a more comfortable life. But what about her life in America? And what about Tony?

Brooklyn is a very simple story, so there’s not really a great deal to unpack here. In fact, with a story this simple, everything turns on the performances, particularly that of Saoirse Ronan. Ronan is, well, someone to watch. This is the fourth film I’ve seen her in, and I’ve never failed to like her in what I’ve seen. Here, she needs to capture our attention through virtually the entire running time. There are only a few moments where she is not front and center on screen. We need to understand exactly how she is dealing with the man changes in her life, and there’s never a moment when we don’t know what she is thinking or how she is feeling. I like Ronan, and I think this might be her best work. The Oscar nomination was warranted, and while I may not vote for her to win, I think it’s only a matter of time before she does if she keeps turning in performances like this one.

In fact, the only real problem I have with the film is that it’s almost impossibly idealized. Often in a story like this one where our heroine has to make a choice between two men, it comes down to a choice between the poor but lovable guy against the rich douchebag. Here, that’s clearly not the case. Both Tony and Jim are ridiculously decent and sweet, almost painfully so. Eilis’s choice may not be between the men as much as it is a choice of the style of life she wants to life. We’re very much led to believe that she could create a meaningful and happy life with either of these men.

Brooklyn is really at its best in the opening half, and seems to pale a bit once Eilis returns to Ireland. The exception to this is the confrontation between Eilis and her former boss, the nasty and universally disliked Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan). Really, the moment we get to Ireland, where the scenery is admittedly prettier, we want to get back to Brooklyn, where the people are more vibrant.

Still, Brooklyn is a charmer, and I’m happy to have watched it.

Why to watch Brooklyn: It’s completely charming.
Why not to watch: It might be too charming.


  1. Charming it is! I really liked this. Having read the book, I knew where it was heading, I my feelings about how it turned out were different watching the film than they were reading the book: I liked her choice in the film more.

    It has an old Hollywood feel to it, which largely explains my enjoyment. And as you say, Saoirse Ronan is so watchable, you can't help but want the best for her.

    1. Saoirse Ronan looks good in that sort of classic Hollywood role. There's something about her that works in '50s fashion with that bright red lipstick. Since the plot has that feel of classic Hollywood, she fits into it perfectly.

  2. Really great review. I was really surprised by how much I liked this movie. I thought every character worked and nothing felt forced. I even enjoyed the minor characters. I also thought the acting was fantastic by the entire cast.

    I ranked this movie second to Mad Max: Fury Road out of the best picture nominees for 2015. I am glad you liked the film.

    1. I was really surprised at how much I liked this. It seemed like a movie that could be summed up with the phrase "One woman's journey...," which is never a phrase that gets me excited. And yet, I found it ultimately engrossing and entertaining. It's why I always try to come with as blank an opinion as possible, because being surprised is so much fun.

  3. I'm going to be a slight dissenting voice here. I thought Saoirse Ronan performed wonderfully with what was handed to her but once Eilis returned to Ireland her actions pissed me off so much that I disengaged from the film and never really found my way back. I was constantly thinking "Why don't you open your mouth you spineless, selfish, foolish git and say the one sentence that would resolve this whole mess that you've created."

    It was a beautiful looking film and I liked all the performances but Eilis was a weak central character, things happened to her-she rarely made them happen for her and when presented with obstacles she blundered. It was disappointing since I was looking forward to it but I'd never watch it again.

    1. I can see that, although I don't completely agree. Eilis doesn't really stand up for herself well. Back in Ireland, she's perhaps more pliable than she should be and is suddenly over her head. I think it's entirely believable, especially not knowing how her mother might treat her marrying someone of a completely different nationality.