I guess it speaks to my astounding unawareness of other people’s opinions about films that I went to Brooklyn last night and was confused by how many people were there. I haven’t watched an awards show since Titanic cleaned up at the Oscars, for reference.

Anyhow, Brooklyn. Immigrant tales used to come in two kinds, the kind where home changes and the kind where home doesn’t. Vis-à-vis the United States, the former used to have a charming romance between two different types of people, melting pot blah blah, America rah rah. That’s gone out of fashion, to be replaced by the type of story exemplified by Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, where everything is complicated and maybe home is nowhere.

Things are complicated in Brooklyn, too, but less aporetic. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has two lives, one in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and the other in Brooklyn, New York. These come with the usual trappings: Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), respectively, as well as the conflicting pulls of family, job, interfering busy-bodies, and so forth. Both worlds (as well as the ships that cross the Atlantic) are beautifully drawn, from costumes to local dances to employers to beaches… It’s lovely, and Ms. Ronan looks varyingly lovely in it–her hair and costume people are tremendous, as her growing confidence, knowhow, and maturity are borne out in her fashion choices and ability to do her hair properly. There’s no makeover moment, and the progression is not linear, but her understated, splendid acting comes through perfectly. She is equally at home in times of crisis (deaths, catastrophic homesickness) and in small moments (talking too much on a date, and, my favorite moment, sitting next to a boy on the trolley and smiling while avoiding eye contact).

Aside from the obvious complicated gentlemen and a priest here and there, most of the characters in Eilis’s life are women, from her mother and sister to the owner of the boarding house in Brooklyn, a Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters, who is great as always), and the other boarders there. They are excellently drawn; none is a caricature, and they all have reasonable, clear motivations. This movie is actually interested in how its characters think, women and men, and benefits from the attention.

My one quibble is that it’s a little predictable, and, in the end, a little pat. And I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but it started out so ambitiously I was a little surprised.

Stray observations:

  • Shoes in the 50s were awful, apparently, and this film is unflinching about it.
  • If you don’t want someone to propose to you, for whatever reason, and that person is averagely percipient and non-awful, it’s not that hard to keep him from doing so.
  • Domhnall Gleeson is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, because he is extremely versatile–aside from the shock of ginger hair, he is nearly unrecognizable from here to Star Wars.

Directors: John Crowley
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes
Score: 4/5

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