Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I kind of knew I was going to like this one from the first preview I saw, because it drops an actress I really l like inside a sort of film I often go for. So let's take them in that order.

First, Saoirse Ronan, who has seldom been less than great - I even liked her in that awful teen assassins movie she did with Alexis Bledel - but has seldom had as great a showcase as this. Sure, there's Atonement, but great kid performances should often be viewed with suspicion; how often are they the result of perfect casting and coaching versus really showing what the child can do when she becomes more active in shaping the performance. Consider Haley Joel Osment's and Dakota Fanning's late-teen and adult careers; there's still clearly talent there, but it's proving a bumpy transition.

Also, with as many fine performances as Ronan had turned in, I still find myself explaining to people why I'm excited when I see her name attached to a movie. Surprisingly few people have seen Hanna considering what a nifty little coming-of-age action movie it is. I think there's been a concerted effort to forget The Lovely Bones happened between Peter Jackson's visits to Middle-Earth, and I can't really blame people for that; it just did not adapt well to film well at all, despite Ronan's best efforts. Her various attempts at young adult film franchises all fizzled, whether unfairly (City of Ember was fun!), righteously (The Host was not her fault), or obscurely (How I Live Now pretty much missed theaters entirely on the way to VOD). Maybe that's for the best, as she didn't wind up like Shailene Woodley and swallowed by something that seems terrible for years on end.

If this does wind up being her breakout role, I like that she's doing it in a movie like this. I love immigration stories, even if I wish that the ones that play as hopeful as this one does weren't always about people who aren't just white, but pale, because I don't think a lot of the people ranting about immigration now tend to consider that the Irish were once given a similar level of crap to that which Mexicans receive today.

I do love the genre, though; it appeals to my love of America as a place where people can come and reach their potential (or at least my desire to believe in such) even while being honest about how there are a bunch of people who will make their lives difficult for foolish "I (that is, my ancestors) got here first and disdain outsiders" reasons. Seeing people triumph over that may be more of a fantasy than I'd like to admit, but it resonates with me. I'm apparently a lot more fond of Far and Away than others.

Indeed, my first impulse in terms of recommending this has been to say it's the best movie of its type since In America, reminding people if necessary that I liked In America a lot. It feels a bit dishonest to say so, because the two stories don't really have that much in common besides focusing on Irish arrivals in New York, but so what? I really like both movies, and less honest connections are made every day.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2015 in the Museum of Fine Arts Remis Auditorium (preview, DCP)

Homesickness can be a tricky thing to put on screen. It's easy enough to have someone say that's how she feels, or make the other place look beautiful before quickly cutting back, but those techniques can be superficial, and filmmakers often want the audience invested enough in their settings to worry about undercutting them. Having the feeling of homesickness be the engine that drives Brooklyn is therefore perilous, but it also means that by nailing it, the filmmakers have made a terrific little movie.

The homesick immigrant in this case is Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a bright Irish girl in her early twenties who nevertheless cannot find more than a couple hours of work per week in her home town. Fortunately, her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and mother Mary (Jane Brennan) are able to make arrangements with a priest in Brooklyn, and Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) has further arrangements made - a visa, a job, a room in the boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). Despite there being a sizable Irish community there, she still misses home, even after meeting nice Italian-American plumber Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). But when tragedy leads her back to Ireland, she finds herself tempted to stay, especially given the attention of handsome Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).

Eilis is the sort of part where people often discover a young actress, but in this instance it might be more a case of one finally getting her due after a long string of fine performances stretching back to her childhood. Here, she does an excellent job of making Eilis (pronounced "Aylish") come across as the demure and accommodating person in most groups while still being tart enough that, when Tony says he likes Irish girls, it's clear that she's got the sort of personality he's talking about along with the red hair. Ronan does an excellent job of showing Eilis getting by with a sort of vague dissatisfaction that neither she nor the audience fully realizes until she's given the opportunity to actually be smart or feel appreciated, and while there's beauty in how she can burst with joy and sadness, a lot of her best work comes during Eilis's return to Ireland in the second half, when the more mature and independent young woman is clearly well-aware of how she's being treated differently but still capable of being seduced by it anyway.

Full review on EFC.

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