Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Girl Week 2016: Brooklyn


I am having loads of fun during Girl Week 2016. However, I do have a confession to make. For me, this week is not necessarily just about praising movies with female leads. It's about discussing them honestly, too. A part of being honest is knowing when you might be alone on an issue, and therefore, might possibly be wrong. The issue in this case is the movie I'm going to be reviewing below. From what I can tell, just about everyone loved it. I didn't. Let's see why.

Directed by John Crowley.
2015. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.
Saoirse Ronan
Jim Broadbent
Emory Cohen
Domhnall Gleeson
Julie Walters
Fiona Glascott
Brid Brennan
Jessica Paré

Eilis (Ronan) is a young woman who lives with her mother and sister in Enniscorthy, a small town in her native Ireland during the 1950s. It's quite clear to everyone she has a lot more book smarts than the other women in the community. To take advantage of her potential, her sister Rose (Glascott) contacts Father Flood (Broadbent), an Irish priest in Brooklyn, New York. He arranges for Eilis to come to the land of opportunity. She arrives in Brooklyn, has some trouble adjusting, gets homesick, powers through it, attends college, and of course, finds love. Don't worry, I haven't spoiled anything. Complications arise when she has to make an emergency trip back to Ireland and a new fella tries to woo her.

From the very beginning, Brooklyn has the feel of a sweeping epic. It's a period piece depicting a love story told across two continents with a musical score that seems to be all crescendos. The cinematography, makeup, and costuming are all top notch. They have a classic Hollywood feel and perfectly serve actors who trot out their best accents. Our thespians deliver excellent performances, pretty much across the board. Star Saoirse Ronan is actually a bit of a weak link, not near as good as advertised (Oscar nominated for Best Actress). That's not entirely her fault. The material is largely to blame. I promise I'll get into why, shortly. Meanwhile, just understand she is aided greatly by the way she's physically presented. She practically glows on the screen. Brooklyn certainly looks the part of a major Oscar contender. It also has the accolades to match.


Even with all that going for it, Brooklyn is not a film with which I found myself enthralled. The problem starts, and ends, with our protagonist. It is a film purporting to be about a young woman finding her way in a new world while struggling with its adversities, yet it does everything except empower her. Ninety-nine percent of what happens to her are things thrust upon her by others, good or bad. The idea of Eilis coming to New York, in the first place, was concocted and executed by her sister and Father Flood without any input from her, whatsoever. Later, when Father Flood sees she's falling to pieces, he enrolls her in college without consulting with her until after the fact. Following this, she doesn't so much fall in love as she is badgered into a relationship by Tony (Cohen), the guy who can't get enough of her. Despite his Herculean effort at courting, she has to be nudged into it a bit more by the women who live in the same boarding house she does. These events merely repeat themselves once she's back in Ireland. We replace college with a job she is more or less told she's going to take. Another would-be suitor relentlessly pursues her whether she wants him to, or not. In the end, the film asks Eilis to make but one decision. This could work to create some much-needed dramatic tension, but at this, it fails. That singular decision is such a no-brainer, the only way it would mean anything at all to us would be if she went the other way with it. Unfortunately, the film never gives us a reason to think that's even possible.

As viewers, we have no say so on how what we're watching turns out. However, we expect our main character does. We expect it even more when the film is expressly about that person's life. Eilis never really takes any agency over her own affairs. Sure, she makes that one decision at the end, but it's a choice between two guys who wedged themselves into her world and refused to leave. This makes the entire experience frustrating. Instead of watching Eilis live her life, we just watch things happen to her that she sheepishly goes along with. Rather than being in the movie, she may as well have been sitting next to me on the couch watching. She wasn't. She was on the screen. Oh well, at least she was to enjoy that beautiful scenery and note for us the differences in landscape between Brooklyn and Enniscorthy.


Thanks to all of yesterday's contributors. Click below to read their posts.

21 comments:

  1. Yes to everything you mentioned!!

    I had mixed feelings for this film. Performances aside, the main character just says yes to everything pushed to her. I didn't understand why. Even that 'big' decision on the end was kind of baffling. I read the novel this was based on, and I kind of understood why she did what she did. That just didn't translate well onscreen.

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    1. Thank you! Glad I wasn't the only one who feels this way. It just didn't work because she never really seemed to grow a spine.

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  2. Those are interesting observations, some of which I share. For an immigrant story Eilis certainly has an easier road than most smoothed as it was with help in Ireland and a respectable place already waiting when she arrives. I think her reluctance with Tony was both being unsure of her feelings and not wanting to give up her independence and I was okay with that because she was so young.

    My problem with the movie, and it was a huge one that almost made me not finish watching, was her selfish, foolish behavior once she returned for that visit to Ireland. She knew exactly where she stood in America and with a few sentences could have shut the whole situation down and that she didn't diminished my liking and sympathy for the character and left a bitter taste after the movie was over.

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    1. Thanks. She certainly had things laid out nicely for her. As far as the way she acted with Tony, I don't think she ever had any independence to give up. It was just another case of someone else deciding what will happen in her life. I would be okay with this if it were building toward her really seizing control of things, but she never does.

      I think we have the same issue with her behavior in Ireland, we just saw it as two different things. What you saw as selfish, I saw as her lacking any sort of a backbone and having to muster up the courage to say the one thing that would've halted all that silliness right away.

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    2. I did enjoy this film but also found the character frustrating. It felt like a typical soap opera theme and one where I wanted to go into the film and slap her. I felt she was asserting her independence only to follow the route of marrying a guy anyway. Going to Ireland also bugged me for both reasons that Joel and you, Wendell, mention

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    3. Exactly! I think I may have even tried to reach through my TV and slap her a time or two.

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  3. I'm breaking up with you, I can't have this...lol

    That's too bad you didn't like this one more. It was one of my favorites. I felt like I could relate with Eilis quite a bit, and it did a good job of bringing the book to life. They only left a few things out.

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    1. :(

      I get it. Lots of people love this one. Just didn't work for me.

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  4. I haven't seen it yet (I know, I suck) but I totally understand why one would not like it. And I'm starting to think I'm going to be one of those people.

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    1. You might be, but since it is so acclaimed I recommend seeing it for yourself.

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  5. This is one of my very favorite movies of last year, and I think I love it for the reasons you somewhat bashed it. That being...that Eilis is an agreeable person. A kind, gentle, hopeful, sincere, GOOD agreeable person. And so is her sister. And so is Father Flood. And so is Tony, who is head over heels for her, not badgering. I found Tony to be one of the most charming, kind romantic interests in a long time. And so is Tom, the Domnhall Gleeson character. And her roommates and on and on. That one final decision she makes was a no-brainer...to us...but the dramatic irony came in her slowly realizing that she is empowered and can make a decision on her own and fully invest in her actual love for Tony and not be what her mother may expect of her. Roger Ebert used to praise movies like this by saying he wanted to "hug himself" while watching. I felt that three times during my first watch of this movie. Then at three more times the second time.

    Hate that it didn't work for you, but Eilis and the loving people surrounding her on both sides of the pond gave me everything I needed.

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    1. I don't mind her being good and agreeable, but she seemed to be letting others think for her. I understand it was a different era, but there has to be a limit well before she set it. In particular, I was a bit perturbed she didn't tell her mom, or Tom, she was married which would've avoided a lot of unnecessary drama. Sure, she had lots of well-meaning people around, but they were all pulling in different directions. So, instead of giving me the warm and fuzzies, they all annoyed me.

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  6. Interesting analysis, but I gotta say I disagree. To me, Eilis has agency - even though as Kevin pointed out she starts out as an agreeable character, she grows into a pretty empowered one. Her opportunities are set up by others, but her sister's potential in her doesn't leave a lot of room to disappoint. Her life in Ireland at the end not only mirrors the one she achieved in Brooklyn but also, as one could imagine, the life her sister wanted her to avoid in Enniscorthy all along. When she returns, her friends/mother don't expect her to have actually changed. Almost everyone expects her to start where she left off, and again like her arrival in Brooklyn, people make commitments for her without her knowledge and she goes along to avoid disappointing. But it takes falling back into the swing of things to realize how much she's changed. It'd probably be easier to forget about Tony, make her mother happy, etc. - but she doesn't let that happen. Her wants and her life is different than her mom's. Given the era, what are the chances she'll have an opportunity to travel back to Ireland. It probably won't be unless/until her mother passes away - her departure is a pretty huge decision she makes for herself without having someone convince her to do it or do it for her. (Sorry this was a novel!!!)

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    1. I get why she does some of the things she does. However, regardless of the era, I couldn't quite go with speaking up to say "I'm married," being this bold and empowered move.

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  7. I enjoyed this movie, but this character isn't particularly memorable for me and you brilliantly articulated why. To be fair, I think she empowered herself in ways that may seem subtle, and this is probably realistic for a young woman in her time and culture. And I think it worked, to some extent.I might have found her more memorable if this had been explored a bit more fully or if I had gotten to know her character just a little bit better. I am curious to read the novel this is based on to see how it compares.

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    1. Strange, we spent so much time with her and still didn't know her well enough. She was too much of a blank slate.

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  8. So, I meant to comment on this back when you first posted it, but my feelings were in such a tangle that I couldn't. Or I forgot. One of the two. Anyway.... HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    How this movie worked so well for me was in how it presented the feeling of leaving home and starting a new life elsewhere - this movie opened when I was feeling particularly alone and I REALLY felt what Ellis was going through. So maybe I was more inclined to love the film because of that. I sort of see what people are saying when they say Ellis is too passive or whatever, but to me, it isn't that at all. She's a very internal character (and in the book, she's actually worse of a person than she is in the film), and of course she goes along, because deep down she understands that this is all for her benefit - she will be able to have a better life in America than she would in Ireland. But even though she knows that deep down, she still feels the pull of home (all the gifts she sends and the letters she sends and receives). That's why the film's last act is so impactful. It's this war waging within her over the home and traditions she knows and loves in Ireland and the new life being forged for her (and that she is taking small steps in forging for herself) in America. In that way it's also something of a coming of age story.

    I'm still not sure I'm expressing myself well on this. I have A LOT of feelings about this movie (it was my #1 of last year) and I could talk about it forever. It's a small story, but really beautiful. It's just rather quiet about it.

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    1. I think the disconnect for me is that her being introspective didn't really come across. She felt like she was all surface to me.

      I love that people are coming out so passionately in favor of this movie, though. It shows how diverse our reactions, all valid reactions, could be to a piece of art.

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  9. Hmmm it's been a while since I watched this but one of my favourite features of the film was the progression of Ellis from sheepish bystander to independent woman. Thinking about it, I do agree that the majority of the events of the film are pushed onto her but I think by the end of the film she's in full control of her life. I was actually thinking her choice at the end of the film was going to go the other way than it did. I wasn't too keen on watching this movie but after I did it ended up on my best films of 2015 list.

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    1. The disconnect we're having is that I don't think she ever assumes full control of her life. She merely ends an affair and goes home to the husband she wasn't sure she wanted in the first place. Maybe I'm being harsh on her, but that's how I saw it.

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