Another week, another movie for my #Oscarwatch2016. This time, I went to see Brooklyn. Again, I went by myself because the boy would be working late, and I didn’t imagine he’d miss seeing it. I was correct. But it was still very good, and he might have liked it. You might like it too – it’s set in both Ireland and Brooklyn (duh!) in the early 1950s, and has beautiful scenery, gorgeous costumes, and is so lovely to look at sometimes that it hurts (I’m sort of surprised it isn’t nominated for cinematography). So if period romance is your thing (even if that period is only 60ish years ago), then you’ll like this movie.
Our protagonist is young Eilis – she’s originally from a small town in Ireland, and because there are no opportunities for her there (no jobs, no young men of interest), she uses family connections to get to America, and she settles in at a boarding house in Brooklyn. She finds a job, and a young man, and then the world turns upside down and she has to make hard choices. I’ll talk about her young man, and job and choices below, but if you haven’t seen it yet and care about spoilers, skip down to the bottom of this post and the trailer.
Saoirse Ronan is pretty fantastic. She starts out the movie as this mousy, kind girl who is so unsure of herself and her choices, and is deeply afraid of living without her sister and mother at the same time as she is excited about and desperate for prospects for a better life for herself. She may be afraid, but she’s also ambitious. Part of the movie centers on her career goals, which is not a normal thing for this kind of period film. But her boss at the department store where she works (seen above) and the priest that helped bring her to America help her to fulfill her dream of being a bookkeeper (and maybe someday an accountant!) by taking night classes in a school with all men. Over the course of the movie she transforms into a lovely, confident young woman who knows who she is, and by the end of the movie, figures out what she wants, and how to stand up for herself against all the people in her life who are trying to control her (even if their desires for control are based on mostly good intentions). Perhaps because she’s had to make these transitions to adulthood recently herself, Ronan does an exquisite, poignant job of showing the good and the bad of making big choices.
And because it’s a romance, we’ve got an adorable love interest. He is Tony (played by Emory Cohen), and he’s an Italian boy who loves the Brooklyn Dodgers, but loves Eilis more. He is so sweet with her – being gentlemanly, supportive of her career goals, and eager to have her as a part of his life and future (he says “I love you” first). He takes her to meet his family early on, and makes sure she is safe walking home alone at night from school. And it’s Eilis – NOT Tony – who takes the initiative in having a more physical relationship. So very progressive for the time! Their decision to marry in secret is one of the big issues that Eilis will have to deal with because…
About 2/3 of the way through the movie, Eilis’ sister dies back in Ireland. Since the return journey still requires a trip by sea (at least if it’s going to be affordable for a girl on a department store salary), she won’t be there in time for the funeral. She does get home to support her mother and discover that her best friend’s wedding is in a few weeks. And one of the handsome, popular young men is now suddenly interested in her now that she’s worldly and glamorous from her time in America. The bookkeeping job that her sister left behind has opened, and they want to hire her. All the things that she left Ireland for are suddenly within her grasp, except for the fact that she has a life and a young man back home in Brooklyn. This is the climactic struggle within Eilis and the film: how do you tell your family and friends that you’ve changed down to your bone? That you have moved on, and maybe didn’t tell them because it’s so hard to say those things without it feeling like a judgment on the choices that everyone else has made.
It’s a beautiful movie, and worthy of the praise that it’s getting, but it’s hard to imagine that it will win awards when the time comes, based on everything else that it’s up against. But it was definitely worth my time, and is worth yours as well.
More Information: “Brooklyn”, written by Nick Hornby (screenplay) and Colm Tóibín (novel), directed by John Crowley. In theaters.
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay.