Brooklyn

Brooklyn

Postby CAP » Tue Feb 23, 2016 3:41 am

Basically, an old fashioned ‘woman’s movie’ or ‘weepie’, appropriately set in old-fashioned times; 1952 to be exact. The story is driven by twinned themes of Irish migration and marriage as job or career, handled with a certain restraint and exquisite production values. This one manages to be both delicate and oppressive, quiet, even prim yet dark, dark, dark. While there are affectionate re-creations of many period details, stock characters and situations, at its heart the film is bleakly pragmatic about a time and place. And in the end, despite the phoney ingratiating happy ending pasted on by hack screenwriter Nick Hornby, it is just sad. It is most assuredly a weepie, perhaps more than the makers realise. The movie is based on a 2009 novel of the same title by Colm Tóibín which I haven’t read, but by reputation exploits a populist sentimentality and as noted, is adapted by the dreaded Hornby, only amplifying the tendency. But I give it seven, mainly for the stunning performance by twenty-one year old Saoirse Ronan, as the lead, Eilis (pronounced I-leesh) Lacey, an excellent supporting cast and the sheer weight that the twinned themes accumulate. The movie apparently did amazing business at the 2015 Sundance Festival – a perfect platform for a very low-key ‘TV’ type of drama and has gone on to general distribution as a huge hit for Irish cinema.

The story concerns a young woman (Lacey) in Enniscorthy, a small town in County Wexford, younger daughter to a widow (Jane Brennan) of modest circumstance. Eilis struggles to find full employment and is ushered into migration by her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) through church contacts with an Irish priest in Brooklyn, New York and an older sister’s residual bossiness. Brooklyn seems a bit of a stretch as an employment option – but there is no talk of contacts in Dublin or even Cork, Liverpool or London, more convenient if not more reliable prospects. That probably has as much to do with the church’s networks and recruitment as career paths or post-war economics. Sadly, Ireland’s population even now remains its chief export. And initially it is just a tale of another young person, surplus to requirements for the local community, bid a fond farewell. Of course, no-one ever quite realises what that entails, how much they must give up, how much they must change. It is one giant leap for an individual, cut off from their life, one small step backward for a community. Some American reviewers suppose it is no more than leaving town for college but this is not just about growing up or moving out. It is about wholesale abandonment.

The abandonment is not total or instant, however. Significantly, the church remains a guiding force for Eilis, through Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) in Brooklyn, finding her work at a department store, lodgings at an Irish boarding house, presided over by the amusing Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters) and when homesickness and depression overwhelm, enrolling her in evening classes in bookkeeping, if only to keep her busy. But Eilis is essentially a prisoner to the Irish enclave in Brooklyn; a willing helper for the church’s Christmas dinner where a parade of lonely old tramps remind us of the fate of the unskilled labourer in a market economy and where a Gaelic folksong (Casadh an tSúgáin) sung unaccompanied by the most tender of Irish tenors (Iarla Ó Lionáird), reminds us how the mirage of a cultural heritage becomes consolation for the outcast and derelict. Migrants the world over will recognise the sickly sweet allure of ‘the old country’. But there is no going back. It can never be the same. If this is meant to be a spur to self-advancement, then Eilis finds she can master bookkeeping with surprising ease and glimpses a future in accounting (a welcome counter to stereotypes) and possibly some measure of freedom.

In the meantime she is just one more young, single Irishwoman on a circuit of church dances. Here she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) an Italian-American with a puzzling taste for Irish women, although all else about him conforms to his sub-culture. Tony has a kind of puppy-like ardour, that one can well imagine appealed to Hornby, but for all his boyish good looks, is just a little too desperate, a little too pushy. Not surprisingly, Eilis finds him amusing, but entirely resistible. It’s hard to say how much this is the role and how much it is Cohen, but there is not quite the spark with Eilis or Ronan the story demands. He is meant to be the sincere and charming face to upwardly mobile America but there is something just a little too anxious about him. Being shorter than Eilis doesn’t help. Predictably, he soon declares his love for Eilis (on about their third date) and she cannot respond. That should have been the end of the matter. Instead, later that night Eilis falls into conversation with fellow lodger Sheila (Nora-Jane Noone) at the shared bathroom. The talk is of love and marriage. Sheila is around thirty and confesses her husband has left her and she bluntly looks for a replacement. As she points out, so she will not have to queue in someone else’s hallway to use the bathroom. She has no illusions about love for her partner or their respective attraction. But the position will accord her respect and presumably some parental power. It will be a job. It is a ruthless but probably accurate insight into mid-twentieth century sexual politics, when the dilemma between home and career was endlessly played out in ‘women’s movies’. While Brooklyn largely trades on nostalgia and niceties, Sheila’s terse summary brings matters into an icy focus. The scene is the turning point, probably the highlight of the movie and only deepens the plight of the migrant.

The next evening, when Fiorello again dogs her, Eilis is ready to declare her love and from that moment on we know she has weighed up his prospects with a bookkeeper’s eye for balance and profit. But this is really only the first act, the story then doubles back on itself when Eilis receives news her sister has died unexpectedly of a mysterious disease. There is no hope of attending the funeral but Eilis is determined to return, if only to console her mother. Tony, being the patient young man we have come to know, insists they get married first, so that she will not be tempted to stay in Ireland. Eilis agrees to a secret registry quickie. Actually she agrees to more than a registry quickie as comsummation, but at that point she doesn’t know what lies in store across the water. Back in Enniscorthy, she is a worldly figure in American fashions with bookkeeping skills soon in demand. Reconnecting with an old girlfriend leads to her being paired off on a double date with local squire, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). This is the third time I’ve noticed Gleeson (never watched the Harry Potter movies) firstly in Frank, then a small part in The Revenant and now this, also a small but perfectly judged role as worthy but dull loser. What is really impressive is how, with limited screen time and material, Gleeson can find chemistry with Ronan’s Eilis. They do connect in a quieter, more measured way than Tony. And it is entirely convincing that with her broadened perspective, Eilis may have a new appreciation of the ‘local boy’. They are an item everyone instantly recognises and with far greater prospects for Eilis in every way.

The problem is obviously her secret marriage. Eilis cannot quite bring herself to read Tony’s letters, edited by his tedious eight year old brother, largely to avoid apostrophes, cannot resist been drawn deeper into Enniscorthy’s society. A whole world of deep approval and opportunity opens before her. A discreet divorce may not be out of the question (at least in New York), but firstly there is the tricky business of confessing to her marriage, explaining her secrecy. She never gets a chance to explore this avenue though, since rumours of her marriage surface from witnesses at the registry, even in Enniscorthy. Her former employer, the spiteful old shopkeeper, Miss Kelly (played with distinction by Brid Brennan) gleefully confronts her with the gossip. Eilis has no option but to come clean and watch once more any acceptance at home melt away. Once more she departs by ship, this time in bitter humiliation. The movie properly ends there, as she advises a newer migrant on the crossing and America, without taking her eyes off Ireland as it retreats behind the Atlantic. That distant look sums up even greater calculation. This time she leaves, not because there was no place for her, but because others ensured it was so. Sadly, that is not just Ireland and no Brooklyn and second starts can compensate for a cruel world.
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Re: Brooklyn

Postby jasperjoffe » Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:36 pm

I thought this film was cliched shit..slowpaced and with little feel for how strange nyc would have been for an immigrant probably cos they had no money for city scenes
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Re: Brooklyn

Postby CAP » Tue Mar 08, 2016 2:50 pm

Wow :roll:

Thanks for sharing.

So long Jasper :P
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