Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Filming Homesickness: Brooklyn Plods To Its End.

The Good: Saoirse Ronan's performance, Dinner table scenes
The Bad: Mediocre characters, Virtually plotless, Oppressive mood
The Basics: Brooklyn slowly develops a single character who is pushed around for almost the entire movie and leaves the viewer mired in her sense of loneliness.

When it comes to films that are nominated for the Best Picture, there are remarkably few this year that I am truly excited about watching (which is probably why it has come down to the week before the awards and I am playing catch-up). Truth be told, however, a few months ago, I saw a preview trailer for Brooklyn - without the sound on - and it intrigued me. I knew nothing about the movie, but it looked beautiful. So, when it was released for Thanksgiving and got nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I was unsurprised; it was obvious Oscarbait.

Tonight, I sat down to Brooklyn with no expectations and no information about the film, other than that it looked well-shot and it featured Saoirse Ronan. To date, the only role Ronan has truly impressed me in was her part in The Grand Budapest Hotel (reviewed here!) and it was a very minor supporting role. So, if anything, my expectations were low when I watched Brooklyn. And after watching the film, I'm not exactly sure what I feel . . . except like I continue to wait for the movie to become something. It is a rare thing that my wife likes a drama movie more than me, but she enjoyed Brooklyn and, to be fair it kept us both awake and engaged for the entire piece. But while she felt it was like Memoirs Of A Geisha (reviewed here!), save that even less happens, Brooklyn lacked characters to make me invested in the film and its preoccupation with setting over character left me thinking the film was entirely forgettable once it was over.

Set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn is based upon a novel; it is important to note that this review is entirely focused on the film.

Eilis is a young woman living in a small Irish village, working at the local general store for the odious Miss Kelly. Her older sister, Rose, contacts a friendly priest who emigrated to the United States and he sponsors Eilis's immigration to Brooklyn. After the horrid trip to the U.S., on which Eilis is aided by her cabinmate, Eilis arrives at the boarding house where she feels entirely alone. Eilis's loneliness is deepened by her inefficiency at work - she is employed as a shopgirl at a large department store - and the slow speed of the mail and her isolation at the boarding house. She begins taking night classes to become a bookkeeper, with the goal of eventually becoming an accountant like Rose.

As time passes, Eilis begins to come out of her shell. She meets Tony at one of the Irish dances and he confesses to her right away that he is Italian. Tony and Eilis begin to see one another and Eilis seems charmed by the young man. When Rose abruptly dies, Eilis has to return to Ireland to take care of her mother. Once there, virtually everyone in the community conspires to keep Eilis there - a suitor, Jim, begins to express interest in her, Eilis's best friend Nancy gets married delaying her return home, and a local business hires Eilis to replace Rose as their bookkeeper. Eilis finds herself caught between the home she made for herself in the United States and the home she always wanted to have in Ireland.

Brooklyn is one of those films building to a single moment or decision and the problem with the film is that it lacks a protagonist strong enough to make the journey intriguing or enjoyable. Eilis is not very expressive or passionate; the only thing she clearly expresses wanting is to become an accountant eventually. The rest of the time, Eilis is simply buffeted from one person's desires to another without her strongly reacting or expressing herself. So, for example, Tony shows a number of signs of developing into an overbearing, abusive partner who consumes Eilis's identity by overpowering her . . . but it is hard to say that he is pushy when Eilis does not express her own desires very strongly.

Despite the character defects Eilis possesses, Saoirse Ronan is perfectly cast to play her. Indeed, Brooklyn might contain her best performance to date. Ronan has the slow burn for the character; Eilis begins as quiet and monolithically bland. Ronan slowly infuses her with confidence and a few quietly-delivered lines that illustrate she has a biting sense of irony under her neutral facade. Indeed, it is hard to imagine an actress that could more convincingly pull off a character who is basically pushed around the entire time and make her believable as an individual.

What makes Brooklyn at all watchable are a few key scenes and a few witty lines. The characters might not be the most interesting, but the dinner scenes in the boarding house are - each and every one - charmingly funny and distinctive, clearly embodying a very different time and place. And then there are a few random lines, quietly delivered by Saoirse Ronan that imply there is more to Eilis than a sullen, cripplingly lonely character.

That said, the bulk of Brooklyn is a plodding cinematic embodiment of the loneliness of homesickness. The film fails to build to a statement that is bigger than the one character's mediocre journey. Brooklyn is not about the terrible decisions one makes when they are motivated by crippling loneliness or how people with more confidence and the will to abuse others take advantage of people who are so lonely. The failure to be something deeper makes Brooklyn a slow journey nowhere and it's hard to get excited about it, regardless of the awards it is nominated for.

For other works with Domhnall Gleeson, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
About Time
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part II
True Grit
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part I


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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