Part three of Chasing Oscar: A close look at Brooklyn, the season’s quietest entry
Who would’ve thought that this tiny film about a shy Irish girl moving to 1950s Brooklyn and finding love would be this year’s most emotionally satisfying Best Picture contender?
I certainly hadn’t, if I had thought about the film at all. Brooklyn is microscopic compared to flashier nominees like The Revenant or The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road. Its low profile works astounding well in its favor, stunning audiences with one delightful, heartwarming moment after the other. Even the harshest of cynics would be hard-pressed to find fault with this quiet, romantic tale of loneliness, regret, and remarkable growth.
Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), Brooklyn‘s subject, is a timid and guarded shop girl when she decides to make a go for it in America The Beautiful, leaving her beloved mother and sister behind. She lands in New York with no idea what she’s doing, struggling to connect with her fellow boardinghouse mates and her new job at a department store. Her discomfort is palpable, and you wonder what she was thinking in moving in the first place. Then, she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a charming Italian boy who happens to be as awkward and uncertain as she is.
What could’ve easily devolved into a “Twilight by way of Williamsburg” farce evades it completely, tracking a unique and progressive romance. Tony is lovesick, but dignified and honest in his feelings. Eilis may be quiet, but she is no shrinking violet in their relationship. She is assertive and straightforward. She is also prone to doubts, but isn’t afraid to voice them. Eilis and Tony’s blossoming love is perfect until she is called back to Ireland after a family tragedy. The life, and boy, she came to love in Brooklyn becomes fuzzy as tragedy and familiarity set in, and Eilis must decide which life she really wants, and deserves.
Director John Crowley relishes in quiet character moments, and he employs plenty through the film. With screenwriter Nick Hornby, he crafts scenes that are simple on the surface, but belie nuance and complexity that touch gender, cultural clash, religion, and immigration. Overt stances and discussions are set aside to avoid distraction, and the film is so much better for it. With the two stars leading this rich love story, you can’t blame him from focusing the camera on them and just letting the sparks fly.
Saoirse Ronan, nominated for Best Actress, is marvelous. She captivates in every scene, conveying strength and poise, even in Eilis’s most vulnerable moments. Her character’s evolution from mousy waif to self-assured young woman is so subtle that when she emerges in the final act, you’re left slack-jawed. She is surrounded by a strong cast, for sure, but she shines so brightly that it’s easy to forget the rest. The exception is Emory Cohen, who plays fellow star-crossed lover Tony. He is a revelation, delivering a sensitive, charming performance that’s impossible to not love. His chemistry with Ronan is like magic, and every second they’re together on screen is pure joy. It’s very disappointing that he wasn’t recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work.
Brooklyn is the biggest, and most welcome, surprise of the awards season. This unassuming tale of discovery and love touches an emotional chord that no other contender really has thus far. Guided by an unforgettable performance from Saoirse Ronan, this film is more than deserving of being a Best Picture contender, even a winner. Unfortunately, its profile might be too low to overcome the explosive momentum of The Revenant, or the industry support behind Spotlight. Of course, anything could happen, and I sincerely hope it happens to Brooklyn.
Next time, I swear I will get to Spotlight! Also on the docket are The Martian, Mad Max, and Saoirse Ronan’s fiercest competition, Brie Larson and her starmaking turn in Best Picture nominee Room. Please leave your comments and share: keep the conversation going! Until next time… – BL