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.
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.