One of the cons of the Academy Awards is their ability not just to make us compare films that would otherwise be silly to compare (Mad Max: Fury Road does not fit the same criteria as Spotlight), but that it puts way more expectations of them in comparison to each other. It’s for those reasons that I’m glad that, of all the Best Picture nominees, I did not see Brooklyn until the awards had ended. Because where the competition would have made me see the movie in a less reasonable light, without those worries its more simple pleasures unravelled themselves in a much more rewarding way. Quite simply, this is the type of movie that doesn’t get made much any more; a mid-budget, leisurely paced character drama.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, this story of immigration in the early 1950’s (Ireland to America) makes the transition from book to page by the pen Nick Hornby, and getting a novelist of this character to adapt a work he respects gives the movie a very relaxed, character driven feel. Everything from Julie Walters charming (and biting) quips at the dinner tables to the other girls who live with her, to scenes at dance halls and restaurants, communication via the written word to shitting in buckets, the breadth of interactions between people can be found here. When the movie is more focused on interaction than plot, it simply excels.
It especially does with actors as good as these. It’s been amazing to watch Saoirse Ronan, a woman my age, grow up on screen since Atonement, and here she really completes her transition into adult talent. John Crowley’s direction, like his direction for the Boy A (which brought to attention what an amazing actor Andrew Garfield is), focuses long on actor’s faces and postures, long before the point where many movies would cut showing the gradual changes of expressions and mindsets. These are particularly true with scenes along with her love Anthony Fiorello, played by Emory Cohen. Their chemistry together is incredible, and while Saoirse Ronan was already a star before this movie, Emory Cohen comes with a performance so naturally charming and charismatic that I see future ahead for him.
My main complaint though is a big one, and it comes towards the film’s second half. After the event which needs to bring Eilis back to Ireland, which I won’t spoil, it becomes way more obvious that the events of her life are not in her control, thus making her quite passive as a character. Not many of the major changes in the story from that point on are the result of her action. The focus of the story changes at that point to her reaction to these events, and while that could have been more interesting if these scenes were more psychologically driven, but there is either too much inferral or too much being told what is happening.
There’s still plenty of wonderful stuff to be found in the film’s second half, as this is when we are introduced to Domnhall Gleeson’s charming and timid Jim Farrell (who I think is contractually obliged to be in every movie, and to be great in them). But there are also scenes where you can see the plot gears grinding. It perhaps also doesn’t help that the time between Brooklyn and Ireland are more titled towards the former; the two men of affection really should have been given similar screen time, so as to make the decision between the two feel just more heartbreaking.
But the heart still felt a tear watching Brooklyn. If nothing else I appreciated seeing a movie whose main theme was so committed to being that of homesicknesses (along with what makes a place our home), which is an emotion that few films actually explore. Compared to many films I watched, its amiable tone and warm feel means I still enjoy it just as much throughout even when recognising its problems.
My mum came up with the term “ironing movies”, for a movie whose pleasures are so simple that they can be understood immediately, and leisurely paced enough that you can dip in and out of them whilst doing the ironing. I watched this with my mum, and she said she would be putting this in her collection and watch it again. Maybe that is review enough.