Thursday, January 7, 2016

That New York City Borough Over There

Note the title of today's entry.  That's sort of like how my family viewed Brooklyn.  It was way down there.  As a result, we never went there.   We barely went south of the Bronx.  Indeed, the very first time I went to Brooklyn I was in college and going on an ill-fated date.   Maybe my folks had the right idea.   

Of course, the movie "Brooklyn" barely goes to the borough either.  If you stay through the credits, you'll notice those scenes were all shot in Canada.   And, to wit, about half of the movie is set in and shot around Ireland.   Like my parents' viewpoint, Brooklyn itself is an afterthought.

That said, this film, in its own simplicity, is actually a perfect illustration of my folks' generation.   The days where you were born, you lived, and you died in virtually the same location.  In much the same way, the movie heroine Ellis is being brought up the same way in a small, gossipy, and dreary Irish village.   At the beginning of the movie, she is doomed to this square-mile life.   Except she wants more.   And yearns to see and taste America.

Despite the consternation of her mother and sister, she boards one of those 1950s immigrant boats to New York City.  All she has is a reference letter to a local priest.   Her first days are hard.   She's stuck in a boarding house full of catty girls.  Taking college night courses to be a bookkeeper, she toils during the day at a local department store.  At first, things are not that much better in America.

Ellis then meets young Italian plumber (and ardent Brooklyn Dodger) fan Tony and her world is turned upside down.  Through her growing love for Tony, she learns to love America as well.  And, unlike the immigrants of 2015, she begins to assimilate to her new country.

Of course, circumstances lead her back to Ireland for a short stay and the push-and-pull of old culture and new wears Ellis down.   Can she break free of her family's limited expectations?  

Indeed, as described, "Brooklyn" doesn't sound like much of a story.  But, in its bare bones, the film is unbelievably wise.  It totally gets what European migration to America was like in the first half of the 20th Century.   And, once again, proves a sharp and noteworthy contrast to what immigration is now.   The movie is incredibly smart and gives you questions that you will ponder all the way home.  Director John Crowley has clearly done his historical homework.

Another major reason why the film works so well is due to the performances of Saoirse Ronan as Ellis and Emory Cohen as Tony.   Their romance feels so real that you feel like you are intruding on their most intimate moments.   Ronan, in particular, might score an Oscar nomination forBest Actress.   These actors make you forget that you are watching a performance.

Of course, I give a few points off for shooting but one scene (at Coney Island) in the actual borough.   But, hell, who am I to complain that the film makers didn't visit Brooklyn.  For years, neither did I.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken sausage and salad.

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