Saturday, February 27, 2016

OVP: Brooklyn (2015)

Film: Brooklyn (2015)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Director: John Crowley
Oscar History: 3 nominations (Best Picture, Actress-Saoirse Ronan, Adapted Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

I am a longtime sucker for a period romance, and up until 2015, I was kind of in a bit of a drought.  In the past few years though, this is a genre that has seemingly gone out of style, so imagine my wonderful surprise when I realized that not only were there three major period romances this year, but they were all magnificent (Testament of Youth and Carol were the other ones).  Brooklyn was the one, however, that made the biggest impact on Oscar, though, as it's the only one that made it into the Best Picture race and is the final 2015 Best Picture nominee I haven't reviewed yet on the blog.  Thankfully, I got the review in just under the wire as the Oscars are, of course, tomorrow.

(Spoilers Ahead) The movie is the story of Eilis (Ronan), a young Irish girl who goes to the United States in the 1950's to get a better life for herself.  She becomes a shop girl, and spends much of her time alternating between a job that she doesn't seem particularly good at and homesickness amongst her occasionally catty boardinghouse mates.  As the film progresses, she falls in love with Tony (Cohen), an Italian also living in Brooklyn, and their unlikely pairing ends in marriage before Eilis must go back to Ireland upon the death of her sister.  After falling for an Irishman named Jim (Gleeson), she realizes that her heart still belongs with Tony and she returns home to him in Brooklyn, forgoing a potentially more conventional life in her home country.

The film's greatest strength is that it actually takes itself seriously.  For so many years I've watched romantic films that have too many winks.  Side characters that are meant to make us think that what is happening isn't important or humor that doesn't feel organic to the everyday moments of the picture.  Brooklyn has humorous elements (particularly the wonderful scenes with Julie Walters and the other women in the boarding house), but they feel so natural in the story and never like a side distraction from the seriousness that is happening onscreen.  So often, especially in pictures that center around women and romance, we are expected to lighten up and told that the struggles of our characters aren't important, but Brooklyn never patronizes us and it presents Eilis' decisions as very much central to herself and her future.  Let's not forget that these are two vastly different worlds, and the writers know that and make sure that the film is steeped in finely-tuned drama.

This sort of seriousness has created some of the best pictures of all-time, in my opinion, and while Brooklyn doesn't hit quite that lofty of a title, it is clearly near the shadow of movies like Waterloo Bridge, Brokeback Mountain, and Doctor Zhivago.  The actors and cast are uniformly good.  It's weird to think of Saoirse Ronan, that girl who rocked our world in Atonement, graduating into adulthood so seamlessly, but here she proves she's more than ready to tackle serious roles and sit alongside the likes of Brie Larson, Alicia Vikander, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a new generation of actresses become matinee idols.  I love the way that Nick Hornby makes both Jim and Tony extraordinarily likable and worthy of her; so often in romantic dramas you see two different characters and you know which of the people she "has to" pick, but here the film moves in a way that you can just as easily find her going toward Jim because her life will be easier but just as full.  That's a testament to a truly great source material and adaptation.

I know the film only scored three Oscar nominations, but I'm so glad that one of them was Best Picture.  Movies like Brooklyn feel like a mirage they come along so rarely.  Elegance and introversion are scarce breeds on the silver-screen without ostentatious indulgence.  While it may not win tomorrow, Brooklyn surely has my ballot for Best Picture of 2015.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Did you love Brooklyn as much as I did, or were you hoping for something a little bit more crackling?  Where do you see the careers of Ronan and Cohen going next?  And are you excited to see Julie Walters' TV spinoff of this series come to the BBC?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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