Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

OSCARS 2016: Brooklyn (2015)

I like to say the Academy Awards are incredibly predictable. I’m not the only one. While you can usually figure out what films will be nominated for Best Picture, AMPAS sometimes slip something in there that you don’t expect. In 2016, “Brooklyn” managed to secure a Best Picture nomination. While Saoirse Ronan had received praise for her lead performance, with a nomination being considered likely, the film’s Best Picture nod was a total surprise. “Brooklyn” doesn’t tackle an important social issue and isn’t an astonishing technical achievement. It is, however, a handsome and touching picture, beautifully shot and fantastically acted.

The year is 1952. Good work is hard to come by in the Irish town of Enniscorthy. Eilis lives with her mother and older sister, Rose. On the other side of the ocean, in America, board and work have been set up for Eilis. She leaves home somewhat reluctantly, traveling across the globe, to Brooklyn, New York. Eilis goes to night school and makes friends with the other girls in her boardinghouse but misses home. Until she meets Tony, a kind Italian boy who quickly wins her heart. Soon, the two are married and planning a future together. However, a tragedy back home forces Eilis to choose between her old life in Ireland and her new one in Brooklyn.

Saoirse Ronan, since her breakout role in “Atonement,” has forged a path for herself as one of the most interesting young actresses in the industry. The occasional bid for franchise super stardom aside, Ronan has already been in a lot of pretty good movies at only 26 years old. “Brooklyn” is primarily built upon Saoirse’s strengths as an actress. Those piercing eyes and that enchanting accent establish Ronan’s Eilis as something like an innocent. “Brooklyn” resembles a coming-of-age story, Eilis coming into adulthood on her own terms. “Brooklyn” is an immigrant story but not the one of struggle and difficulty we’re perhaps used to seeing. Things actually work out really well for Eilis. She has a place to live, a decent job, education, friends, and eventually a loved one. The only real struggle she experiences is some food poisoning on the boat ride over. Instead, the film is about Eilis making a life for herself. Ronan is always one-hundred percent captivating, with an irrepressible screen presence and an incredible energy.

“Brooklyn” is also a love story. When Emory Cohen’s Tony first enters the picture, we don’t know what to make of him. He approaches Eilis in a dance hall, admits to having a preference for Irish girls, and cuts the figure of an incredibly common man. Cohen doesn’t give an incredible performance and the chemistry he shares with Ronan is more sweet than mind-blowing. The romance is “Brooklyn” is… Really nice. The scene of Eilis meeting Tony’s family are funny. A moment where her boss tells Eilis that an Italian boy that isn’t obsessed with his mother or baseball is a keeper is similarly charming. It’s not a whirlwind romance or an incredibly intense love story. Tony seeing Eilis in her bathing suit for the first time or the consummation of the relationship on their wedding night are realistically charming, passionate without being overdone. We see two normal, nice people meeting each other, both having an appreciation for the other, their romance developing through a mutual attraction. It’s the kind of naturalistic romance that is rarely given room to breath in movies.

“Brooklyn” isn’t just the story of a girl traveling to a new land and finding love. In the second half, Eilis is called back to Ireland, choosing to keep her marriage to Tony a secret from her family. She stays for a friend’s wedding, later in the month. During that time, everyone acts as if the girl has come back to stay. Her mother sets her up with a new job in a salary office. Soon, she’s set up with Jim, a handsome young lad that clearly cares about her. The film’s gorgeous cinematography makes Ireland seem like a beautiful, almost otherworldly land. Eilis has to make the choice between the life she’s made for herself and the life she was given. How decides what to choose is as heavy as “Brooklyn” gets.

“Brooklyn” probably isn’t the most conceptually complex or narratively weighty film you’re likely to see this Oscar season. However, it is an incredibly charming, gorgeously shot, finely acted, and incredibly pleasing film. If nothing else, it’s appointment viewing for Saoirse Ronan fans. Wedged between the other heavy dramas nominated for Best Picture, “Brooklyn” comes off even better, a movie with simple goals that it more than exceeds. [8/10]

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