Sunday, December 13, 2015

'Brooklyn' review

I don't think I really got a sense of how strongly critics were responding to Brooklyn until the Toronto International Film Festival rolled around. John Crowley's beautiful and poignant immigration drama debuted to good buzz at Sundance, but the reviews turned downright rapturous as Oscar season approached. Because of those strong reviews, I entered Brooklyn with slightly heightened expectations that the film simply wouldn't be able to meet. But make no mistake- this is still an exceptionally made film, performed to perfection and with a deeply patriotic and human core. Saoirse Ronan finally snags the breakout role of a lifetime in this character drama that ends up feeling just a bit too slight for its own good, all while simultaneously giving the audience a sweet, passionate romance flick that works wonders in its own charming way.

There is nothing left in Ireland for Ellis Lacey (Ronan). She's stuck in a dead-end job and hanging around purely for the sake of her mother and sister. But one day, she decides that she needs to move on with life. She makes arrangements with Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) in New York, and takes the journey across the Atlantic to a new life in America. The journey is tough and she doesn't exactly love the new land on arrival. But within time, she gets steady work at a department store, bonds with the women in her boarding house and meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an young Italian man who almost instantly falls in love with Ellis. The couple has a whirlwind romance and in no time at all, it's clear that they love each other. But unfortunately, circumstances get in the way.

One day, Father Flood shows up at the department store with some awful news- Ellis' sister, Rose, has died suddenly. The family will lay her to rest soon and they want Ellis there for support. Tony is afraid that he'll never see Ellis again, but she ensures him that she will be back. But returning to Ireland doesn't quite go as expected. Ellis begins to spend quite a bit of time with Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson), the handsome and wealthy rugby player who is ready to start a new life. Torn between two worlds, Ellis must decide her path once and for all, and choose between her homeland and a new world of opportunity.

I'm not gonna lie to you- life has been insanely hectic lately. Between four AP classes, Christmas Carol rehearsal, student council and sleep, it has been a constant struggle to keep up with the content on this site. However, none of that stopped me from consuming a massive quantity of movies, especially over the holiday break. Unfortunately, that has left me with another predicament- finding time to reflect on those films and review them. By viewing 10 films over a period of nearly two and a half weeks, that leaves me with 10 reviews to write. I've tried to churn them out as efficiently as possible and provide an accurate sense of how I felt about the movie, but it has undoubtedly been difficult. And I think, in many ways, that it has has been at a disservice to films like Brooklyn.

Brooklyn isn't a stone cold knockout. It isn't as masterful as Spotlight, as rousing as Creed, or as entertaining as Spectre. In the immediate moments after watching the film, I found that I was impressed and moved, but not quite in the way I expected. Shortly after, I moved on and began to think about how I would fit all of the other movies that I needed to see into my schedule. It wasn't until I sat down to write this review, two and a half weeks later (I've been really behind, it's becoming a problem), that I truly reflected on just how deeply profound Brooklyn is.

This has been a rough couple of months for immigration with Donald Trump leading the anti-immigration charge. Strong rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans and more has led to the issue being pushed to the forefront of American politics. And I understand the fear. Trump has changed the thought in America and his radical policies reflect that, but I understand the rational concerns over letting immigrants into the country. We don't want what happened in Paris to happen here. We don't want more San Bernandinos. I don't even have a fully formed opinion on this issue yet and I don't want to turn this into a political sermon, but Brooklyn's content is so germane to what has been occurring in the news. This film doesn't make an openly pro-immigration statement, yet under the surface, it makes a deeply positive statement. America has always been a country of immigrants and so much good can come from the melting pot of cultures in the nation. Brooklyn knows this and reflects it in the story of Ellis Lacey. Watching Brooklyn made me proud to be an American- not in a "U-S-A! U-S-A!" way, but on a slightly more subtle level.

But for me, Brooklyn isn't a film about immigration. Sure, the themes are there, but that's not what the movie is about. Brooklyn is about moving on from change. I read a quote about the film a few weeks back- and I'm paraphrasing here- that said something to extent of "Brooklyn is a film for anyone who has gone back home and realized that it wasn't quite the same." At that exact moment, it clicked for me. The neural synapses turned on and I suddenly began to make connections to my own life with Brooklyn. Of course, I've never moved from one country to another, but I have switched schools and then gone back to my old school as an alumni member. And after a while, it's just not the same. This is what Brooklyn understands and I think that it makes it nearly a great film. To whoever wrote that quote: thank you, because without you, I wouldn't have the appreciation for this film that I now do.

In addition to being a great American movie and a great human movie, Brooklyn is a sweeping love story, eloquently told by a talented director and two incredible actors. Saoirse Ronan has been popping up in movies for years now, but this is the first time that she has really attracted Oscar attention. And deservedly so. This is Ellis' story from start to finish and Ronan is in top form throughout. Emory Cohen shares the spotlight as Tony, the sweet and gentle man who sweeps Ellis off her feet in America. Cohen appeared in 2013's masterpiece The Place Beyond the Pines and here, he does some pretty great work. The two actors have mesmerizing chemistry and I genuinely believed their love story. The supporting cast is equally impressive, but these two undoubtedly steal the show.

The reason that Brooklyn falls just short of perfection for me is that I needed more. At 105 minutes, the film is succinct and quick, telling its story with skillful precision and speed. While the ending is pretty satisfying on a story and emotional level, I was left with a sense of "That's it?" The ending is just a bit too anti-climatic and that's disappointing, because the first two acts lead up to it perfectly. If the film had been just a little longer and delved a bit deeper, then we might have had a perfect movie on our hands.

But for many moviegoers, my small issues will not be issues at all. And I can understand that. Brooklyn is so pleasing on a spiritual, emotional and character level and so legitimately and naturally sweet that it's hard to critique it. Ronan and Cohen are absolute dynamite and I just love the way that the film feels so truly personal. Tackling themes of immigration, homesickness and nostalgia, Brooklyn isn't quite the masterpiece that some have touted it to be, but is still an infinitely lovable romantic drama. If you're looking for a good bit of counter-programming against that little J.J. Abrams movie that is coming out next weekend, Brooklyn is an excellent choice.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.4/10)

Image Credits: Flickering Myth, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Screen Rant, The Guardian, Joblo

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