Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brooklyn Review

Recently I overheard a man complaining that his wife made him watch some "romantic bullshit" and his buddies laughed as if he had just told the greatest joke ever told. Now, granted, it is extremely possible that whatever he did watch was complete and utter bullshit, he may not be wrong. He never elaborated as to what it was so I wouldn't have the slightest idea as to the quality of the film or show. What really stuck with me in this moment though was that his friends never asked. It was inherently funny because of the word "romantic", and I could practically hear the stereotypes of dudes and their action film fantasies blasting off in the background. 

So my question is, why is romance a negative? Why is it a punch line? 

I was reminded of this as I watched the new film Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley and starring a glowing, perfect Saoirse Ronan. This is a syrupy melodrama, the type of film my late grandmother would have loved and young me would have rolled my eyes at, but adult me knows better than that. While syrupy melodrama sure sounds like a negative, I was captivated and smitten with every damn second of it. It is covered in just enough of the sweet stuff to taste delicious without going overboard. 

Brooklyn is a historical period romantic drama that actually feels pulled from the era it takes place in thanks to a consistently stunning aesthetic. The usage of color delighted my eyes in every frame, and the warmth of the performance of Ronan in the lead as young Ellis Lacey didn't hurt either. I found it impossible not to be charmed by her and the chemistry she shared with both Tony (Emory Cohen) during her time in Brooklyn and Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, who seems to be in EVERYTHING in 2015) in Ireland. This is a story about immigration and the fear that can come with picking up everything and trying to start over in a strange new world, the type of bravery I admire deeply when I consider what my ancestors must have went through that lead to me ending up where I am today. This is a story about being torn not just between two lovers but also two completely different worlds, one that feels familiar and one that is huge and new and exciting. The question is, which is home?

It's also and perhaps most importantly a love story, and a beautifully told one at that. I kept waiting for a cliche to pop up somewhere, one that bothers me repeatedly in films and ends up feeling so predictable and tired: the moment when one of the two people the main character loves does something egregious. The urge to write in a "jerk" moment in a screenplay to manipulate the audience into preferring the final choice. It never happens in Brooklyn. Ellis has to decide between Ireland and Brooklyn and between Jim and Tony, two completely different places, two seemingly wonderful men who care for her deeply and want to spend their lives with her.

To be fair, the moment that does end up pushing her towards her final decision comes together a little too conveniently for me, requiring a belief in small world coincidences at a time when a lack of technology and communication made everything feel huge, but at that point I didn't care in the least. Even now as I think of it, I shrug my shoulders and wonder when I can watch Brooklyn again, because I don't find the warm cinematic hug of a gorgeous, sweeping romance to be negative or a punch line.

Perhaps I should have asked the guy I overheard what his wife forced him to watch, even if it was none of my business. Had he answered Brooklyn, I wouldn't be laughing.


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