Brooklyn is a pretty good although strikingly sedate movie that might snag one of the many Best Picture Oscar nominations, but won’t win.
It’s a fairly realistic story of a pretty but not exceptionally beautiful Irish girl (Saoirse Ronan) in 1951 whose sister arranges for her to immigrate to Brooklyn, where a kind Irish priest (Jim Broadbent at his most avuncular) gets her a job in a fancy department store and a place to stay at a witty Irish lady’s boarding house. There, more Americanized Irish girls take her under their wing and teach her how to put on makeup and the like.
The Irish in Ireland are portrayed as being snippy toward each other, but the Irish in New York in this movie are always looking out for each other.
At a parish dance, she meets a handsome Italian-American boy with honorable intentions. But then she has to go back to Ireland for family business. With her year in Brooklyn, she’s more glamorous than before, and her best friend sets her up with the most eligible bachelor in Enniscorthy (Domnhall Gleeson [Ex Machina and the fascist general in the latest Star Wars], the son of the great Brendan Gleeson). His intentions are honorable too.
Which equally handsome lovelorn swain will she choose: the working class but ambitious American or the upper middle class but less ambitious Irishman? There’s a plot twist I didn’t tell you about, but, basically, Brooklyn is like a classy Masterpiece Theater version of the basic plot of tween sensations Twilight and Hunger Games: which cute boy will the heroine choose?
The heroine doesn’t beat up any bad guys. In fact, the only bad guy in the movie is a nasty lady in Enniscorthy who is a mean gossip. A surprisingly realistic aspect of Brooklyn is that it portrays the world as being quite nice to nice-looking middle-class 19 year old girls with good manners.
But that means Brooklyn is sorely lacking in light-saber duels.
The screenplay adaptation is by Nick Hornby, a popular novelist and memoirist: High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch, books that in the 1990s helped open up the topic of music and sports fandom as a literary subject. (Hornby is the brother-in-law of thriller novelist Robert Harris: Ghostwriter, Fatherland, which was a saner working out of the rich Nazis-won-the-war alternate universe idea than Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle.)
There’s not much market lately for novels for guys, especially for a novelist whose strong suit is relationships and feelings and probably doesn’t want to compete with his sister’s husband, a prodigious researcher, at writing genres that still appeal to male readers like spy stories and historical politics. So Hornby has recently been remaking himself into the the straight guy who writes novels and movies about female main characters: An Education with Carey Mulligan, Wild with Reese Witherspoon backpacking, and the pleasant novel Funny Girl about an English TV comedienne. Or at least that’s my guess about Hornby’s career strategy.
I like his recent stuff about heroines, but my wife is indifferent to it, so perhaps he hasn’t yet overcome his fundamental guyness.