I think my opinion of Brooklyn has become less, shall we say, passionate, now that the Oscars are over. Before, I fervently loved it, but I hoped it wouldn’t really win anything because it wasn’t a particularly groundbreaking movie. Now that we’re in the “after” period, and it happened basically the way I wanted it to, I’m muted by my own contentment.
… She says before she blathers on about the movie anyway. It’s good! Yes, it stars literally all white people! Yes, it’s a story that takes place in the 50s about a particular group of immigrants that was both stereotyped against and racist towards other immigrants! I was all for the #OscarsSoWhite discourse this year, because Hollywood needs a serious making-over, and studios and execs need to realize that movies starring and made by all races are what all races want and what all races will buy tickets to. But I think it’s hilarious to jump all over a movie that had absolutely nothing to do with that, a little indie love story that wasn’t trying to make any sort of race statement whatsoever (and probably had no business being in the Oscars conversation anyway). It’s horribly unfortunate but true — 1950s Brooklyn was segregated, so it’s likely that the “heroine” of the story wouldn’t have hung out with many non-Irish, non-Catholic people, and thus her story would have been very, very pale. Dropping a “token” in would have been worse, I think. Pandering. Anyway, it’s over now. Let’s just focus our efforts on getting the power mongrels that run Hollywood to realize that all of us spend our money on things that are good and artistic and diverse in the first place, and maybe that will make an iota of difference one day. (Idris Elba for the next Bond, please and thank you. This is not a debate.)
OK, onto the movie itself. I fervently loved it because I identified very strongly with Saoirse Ronan’s character, Ellis. (But I realize that many people might not, and they might find it alienating.) Her largely not-thought-through decision to move to New York from the comfort zone of her home in the countryside of Ireland mirrors my own. (I only wish I were Irish. And I took a plane. You get it.) She takes advantage of a cut-and-dry opportunity, she knows she must escape the weight of familiarity, and she feels burdened by the omnipotent presence of nosy passive-aggression that runs rampant throughout her small town. While I can’t say my hometown has ever been the source of that much interrogation and stress for me, I felt her pain, especially when she returned to help her mother get her late sister’s affairs in order. When you go back to a place, after attempting to establish your life in a new one, it appears that time has stood still, even though it obviously hasn’t. There’s always a very tailored spot for you at home, even if you deny it, and Ellis struggled to alter her shape so she wouldn’t fit in her Ireland spot anymore. Home, for her, is easy, yet mind-bogglingly hard because she knew about what else the non-Ireland world had to offer. She wrestles with ambiguity in all facets of her life — romance, employment, family, friends — in a very real, unflattering way, and I was relieved to see this portrayed in a movie. The feelings aren’t subtle, but Ronan herself is, and I really love her acting style. The fact that she could take something so simple and effortless as Ellis’s emotionally complex, hesitant story and turn it into an Oscar-nominated performance bodes well for the rest of her career. She was born to play Ellis, but she was born to play many more roles after Ellis, too. She’ll get many more Oscar nods, and she’ll win one eventually. I’m not worried about it.
Back to that new life Ellis had established in the titular Brooklyn. It was pretty cush, even if it wasn’t luxurious. She had a nice job at a department store, an amusing-enough living situation and a dreamy boyfriend in Tony (Emory Cohen, who looked so much like Channing Tatum’s kid brother here that I forgot how annoying he was in Smash). She realized it, too, enough to put a ring on it before she returned to Ireland. She probably knew all along that Ireland would tempt her with its men (Domhnall Gleeson) and its beachfront properties and its job security, and that’s why she took Beyonce’s advice 50 years ahead of time. She needed a pre-determined solution to the moral dilemma she knew she was going to face.
Ultimately, Brooklyn is a good deal schmaltzy — which is why I didn’t think it was quite worthy of being an Oscar movie — but that doesn’t take away from it being enjoyable and beautiful. Ellis and Tony meet at a dance, for shit’s sake. Why don’t we do that anymore? Not clubbing and grinding and all that, but actual, real, formal dances. It’s so romantic and chivalrous without being absurdly over-the-top. It also probably does not pass the Bechdel test, but who cares? Ellis was creating a new home for herself, and Tony was a contributing factor to that, so why remove that element? She seemed to marry him for different reasons than her friends married their partners, too — something made all the more obvious when she was presented with a different offer in Ireland. For everyone else, it was about property, job security, family line. For her and Tony, it was about cracking each other up and trying to figure out what the hell the other’s family traditions were. It’s cute.
Ellis, the fictional character, makes me want to try harder at this New York thing. She also makes me want to move to Ireland, but that’s mostly for the accents, anyway.
Now, if I could just get my hands on these sunglasses…