I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!


tn_brooklynbestpictureBROOKLYN is my best-picture-nominee-completist viewing for this year. When the nominations were announced the only ones I hadn’t seen were THE REVENANT (which was about to come out and I was excited to see), ROOM (which I had been told was very good so I was already interested) and this one (no interest). And I’m not saying it changed my life or nothin, but it’s a good movie I never would’ve watched otherwise.

Saoirse (pronounced sur-shuh) Ronan plays Eilis (pronounced AY-lish) Lacey, a young woman who works in a shop in a small town in Ireland in 1952 (pronounced nyn-teen-fiff-tee-too). But she doesn’t get paid much and  people are starving and her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott, RESIDENT EVIL) arranges for her to go to the U.S. where there might be better opportunities. A priest (Jim Broadbent, SUPERMAN IV) sets her up with a home at a boarding house, a job at a department store and even night classes in bookkeeping at a college.

So this is about as convenient of an emigration as you could get, but of course she’s still miserable. She misses her home and her family. She has an awkward start but after some time fits in at home and at work and impresses her boss and the head of the boarding house (Julie Walters, who is gonna get her own TV spinoff, expanding the Brooklynverse to different mediums much like Marvel did with Agents of SHIELD). Well, mostly after she meets a guy (Emory Cohen, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES).

You know, this could’ve gone very differently. This is only one year and one borough away from where CAROL took place. What if Carol had chosen a different department store to shop at? Would she have had her eye on Eilis? Maybe not.

mp_brooklynRonan is very good in the role. She seems so scared and vulnerable and you watch her solidify into something stronger. She does alot of acting where it’s just a long shot of her face as she goes through a series of thoughts and emotions. She also has a good rapport with Walters and the other boarders, and there are some laughs there. They teach her how to be an American woman of the ’50s in a goofy and endearing way. Cohen is also a likable doofus, and there are some good scenes with his family, who both embody and humanize the stereotypes of New York Italians.

A movie about this could be very dreary looking, but I like how they bring in spots of color, often through her sweaters, lipstick and shoes. It’s not a very showy movie, but there are subtle touches that are nice. The scene that impressed me the most is when she boards the ship to America and watches her mother and sister gathered in the crowd below as she leaves. If you look at that scene, everybody is giving a good performance. Look into the faces of the other passengers lined up on either side of her, and they’re not doing the usual crying-into-a-handkerchief-and-waving type thing, but they’re also making meaningful eye contact with their loved ones, conveying deep love and emotion. Same for the other people in the crowd around her family.


This might be a little timely in that there’s all kinds of hideous racist rhetoric around immigration right now, with certain presidential candidates and idiocratic so-called American dummies wallowing in hateful stupidity particularly when it comes to Mexicans and refugees from Muslim countries. Imagine being such a clueless asshole that you hate people seeking refuge! So maybe it’s a good time to remind them that very recently their families also came here from other places. If they would ever watch a movie like this, which most of them for sure wouldn’t.

But I think it has resonance in another way, because it’s just a universal story about moving, or growing up, going head first into unknown situations, trying to meet new people, trying to find yourself. I can relate a little bit to her inner conflict between missing home and family and wanting to leave it behind and carve out her own path in life. I liked this one.

The big Oscar topic this year is of course diversity, and this a very white movie. A very pale, freckled movie. But let’s give the best picture nominees credit this year for having a little more balance than last year when it comes to gender. We all noticed that FURY ROAD’s heroes are primarily strong women, and that it deals heavily with commodifying women. ROOM is a woman’s story, specifically a mother’s story, written by a woman. And BROOKLYN, though a story told by men (except for the producers) is very much about women, from a woman’s perspective.

There are three men who are important to her and to the story, but most of the movie is about her relationships with her mother and sister, the horrible woman she works for in Ireland, the women she meets while traveling to and from America, the women she boards with, the women she works with. When she goes to school we see that she’s the only woman in her whole class, but none of those men really become characters.

Of course, if I’m going to praise the story for its women’s themes I should also admit that she only becomes happy in America after she meets a dude. You can definitely read it as a story about finding herself by finding a man. But at least she makes the decision for herself. She originally has to leave home because of the terrible financial situation. When she comes back she could have a better job and a husband (Domhnhall [pronounced doh-nal] Gleeson) who inherits a large house and runs a company. And it’s what her mom wants for her. She refers to him as a “catch.”

But you notice that when she goes back to Ireland she doesn’t try to fit in. She wears her American sunglasses and swimsuit with obvious pride. She (spoiler) chooses to go back to Brooklyn and her Italian plumber husband (trivia: the book – written by Colm Tóibín in 2009, adapted by Nick Hornby – started out as Mario Brothers fan fiction) because that’s the home and life she’s found for herself. And in that life, she’s the catch. That’s pretty clear when she meets his parents but also when he sees her standing across the street after she’s been gone for weeks, and he takes time to just smile and admire her before crossing the street. He can’t believe it.

Nothing wrong with that life.

* * *

Now that I’ve seen all the best picture nominees (and all on the big screen with paying audiences, as intended by the Lord) I’m tempted to sort of rank them. Not in a listicle or some shit, but just to say which ones I like best. This is foolish but I’ll give it a shot.

Obviously MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the best by about a thousand miles, it will be ludicrous when it doesn’t win, but that’s life. (If it does win I have pledged to cry, and I know someone who has pledged to streak.)

I think my second favorite, to the disdain of most of the people I follow on Twitter, might be THE REVENANT. No, I don’t think it’s a deep movie at all, and I don’t really like the idea of Innaritu winning two years in a row (although he’s the one non-white guy nominated!). But to me it was a thrilling big screen experience. I like a movie that surrounds you and drags you and puts you through something. Especially if it also gets to have DiCaprio and Hardy battling it out for mountain man acting supremacy. If it weren’t for FURY ROAD this might be the most cinematic movie of the year.

Then I gotta think maybe THE BIG SHORT, for the reasons I told you the other day. And after that maybe BRIDGE OF SPIES? It’s low on my list of great Spielberg movies, or great Coen Brothers movies, or Spielberg movies that seem underrated even while being nominated for best picture, but it still kinda surprised me considering how dull the trailers looked. I loved the low key performances by Hanks and Rylance, the cold atmosphere, the different take on a spy story, but mostly the thoughtful and principled statement it makes about what America should stand for and the importance of negotiation over bluster and belligerence. Another timely one.

Then maybe ROOM? Or maybe THE MARTIAN. That was a fun movie. Great craft, smart script, refreshingly optimistic world view, good sense of humor within the tension. And then I would go BROOKLYN and then SPOTLIGHT. Both very good movies.

The point is I liked all of them this year. This is why even though the Oscars are #sowhite, even though the Oscars are bullshit, for me they’re worth paying attention to each year. You should’ve nominated CREED, but I already saw it anyway. Thanks for broadening my horizons a little with BROOKLYN.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2016 at 8:55 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Brooklyn”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    February 25th, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Huh…this sounds pretty good. I’ll see it. Thanks, Vern.

  2. I’m not one of those people who gets real angry about how the Oscars are somehow simultaneously utterly meaningless and an outrage because they give their manginess awards to people who don’t deserve them, but I did figure out years ago that they just don’t have anything to do with me. They don’t nominate the kind of movies I like or generally even see, so I just keep it moving’ and let them do what they do. Without Vern doing his yearly Oscar roundup, I doubt I’d even know what was nominated. So thanks, Vern, for taking that bullet and keeping me somewhat aware of what’s going on outside my little bubble of cinematic interests.

    That said, I would really like to see Sly take home an acting Oscar, just to stick it to those Razzie fucks. Does anyone know if they nominated him this year out of spite/on autopilot like they do every other time he has a movie out? I would almost respect them for that. But they probably didn’t, because Sly has a lot of goodwill this year and they are cowards that only pile on easy targets. #RazziesSoLazy

  3. “Manginess” was a typo for “meaningless,” but “Manginess Awards” should be a thing.

  4. Vern –

    Have you seen HANNA? You should check it out. Saoirse Ronan as a teenage ass-kicker. Fey German villains. A female arch-villain. Eric Bana. Plus lots and lots of weirdness and fairy-tale imagery. And it looks great. Seriously, watch it and consider a review for the site. Would love to know your thoughts on it.

  5. The last part of your review, when you say that Eilis is the catch, is hands-down the best take on the movie and her decision that I’ve read. And that includes high-falutin’ publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times. Always a pleasure, your websight is…

  6. One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of people saying FURY ROAD won’t win, but should… like, everybody whose opinions I care about. Maybe that’s a good sign?

    Can you imagine if it does win? I mean, who cares about the Oscar’s and etc. but I think that would be pretty dang cool. If DEADPOOL can influence the industry to make some more R Rated superhero films, maybe a MAD MAX best picture win will influence them to pay for some rad action movies that aren’t just about buff dudes in costumes running around throwing metal stuff at one another?

    Not that I dislike superhero movies. But yeah, I could use some regular old action.

    Speaking of: you know what I watched the other day? Michael Mann’s TV Movie version of HEAT, called L.A. TAKEDOWN. It was fascinating, and good. I kinda miss the days of these kinds of TV movie of the week shenanigans. Then again, regular old TV is getting kinda good at it without having to resort to special events.

    Well, sometimes.

  7. If Mad Max wins best picture, it’ll probably just inspire Hollywood to make more movies about dudes in crazy Immortan Joe respirator masks. But what that has to do with Brooklyn, I’ll never know.

  8. Actually it’s pronounced “Seer-sha”.

    Source: being an actual Irish person who has met several Saoirses (Saoirsii?).

  9. I enjoyed the Oscars. Obviously I was most disappointed in Miller not getting director. I actually think Innaritu might be the (distant) #2 most deserving out of the nominees, but he seems so pompous that I treated him as a wrestling heel and rooted against him. Because of that I sort of enjoyed him not getting the expected best picture in favor of a (to me) inferior film.

    And wouldn’t you know it that I bothered to rank all 8 nominees and then it’s an upset by #8! Of course that would happen.

    And the other disappointment was Sly, but like I’ve said, Rylance was also excellent, and now more people know who he is. Rocky didn’t win but he went the distance again.

    Still, FURY ROAD is in all the headlines as the winner of the night, taking the most awards and being cheered on by most of the world. As much as I think it deserves more, last summer I never would’ve expected this kind of domination or this much universal support behind it. I thought it would’ve been our little thing and we’d be mad when it lost in its few token technical categories.

    One thing you guys missed is how cool it was to see the costume designer strut up wearing a leather jacket and then you realize the back has a huge bedazzled skull steering wheel logo. I watched Rylance notice it and smile. Also Innaritu had his arms folded and was pouting. He’s the new Ridley Scott as far as guy who comes across as an asshole when his movie doesn’t win awards.

    There were plenty of laughs and enjoyably weird bits of uncomfortableness. Rock was both being funny and torturing the white people by making them have to sit and show a sense of humor while being roasted. There was a humorously failed bit where he introduced Stacy Dash on stage as, supposedly, the Oscar’s new director of diversity outreach. It was super uncomfortable because 1) much of the audience clearly either didn’t know who she was or that she was recently infamous for criticizing the idea of Black History Month and BET Awards 2) those who did started to laugh at the mention of the name, then gasped and didn’t want to clap when they realized she was actually there.

    Also I liked when Sarah Silverman said that she considered James Bond “too street.”

    DiCaprio was SO ready to make a best actor speech. He rolled through quickly and smoothly thanking everybody he wanted to and then making a Forrest Taft style speech about the environment. And he wasn’t vaping at the time. A class act.

    And now he is tied with Ennio Morricone for one Oscar. It was amazing to see the maestro there. John Williams hugged him. Quincy Jones hugged him! The Academy showed him the proper respect during his speech. It wasn’t like that time at the Golden Globes when he won for Legend of 1900 or something and the presenter asked “Is she here?”

    And at least it was an unpredictable night. I had considered SPOTLIGHT a possibility at one point but FURY ROAD was pretty dominant and then THE REVENANT seemed to be taking all the top categories, it almost seemed like a mistake. I was so confused. (Then I switched to The Walking Dead, as is tradition now.)

  10. Yeah obviously ABC should have installed chairs right next to the podium for George Miller & his Imperators so the Mad Max cast & crew could conveniently, rightly spend the entire show onstage while they receive all the awards. Would’ve made trophy handouts & speech-giving more efficient and the broadcast wouldn’t have drifted into infomercial o’clock, as the host from Brooklyn said. Speaking of Brooklyn, this movie would’ve been my 3rd choice among the nominees, with the Spielberg a strong 2nd.

    4th place would be BEAR VS. LION, then 5th place I guess would be the one with Margot Robbie pretending like we didn’t all see more of her in that other movie about financial institutions fucking the world. I haven’t yet seen the nominated movies about child abuse but I anticipate I’ll appreciate them more than THE MARTIAN, which is fine but also full of scenes that I suspect many adult fans will be embarrassed to rewatch on their dvd machines & HBOs.

    So anyway, BROOKLYN is great if you’re in the mood for such a period piece drama. It’s also the perfect date movie once it gets past the seaborne digestive issues. (Not fun or romantic to watch someone diarrhea into a bucket in my opinion.)

    The casting is as perfect as cinematically possible. Directorially, “point the camera as Saoirse’s face and shut up” turns out to be a good choice. I kept waiting for a villain to appear, maybe a nasty dollop of bigotry or an inciting conflict brought about by a violation of religion-based mores, and it kept not happening. Beautiful stuff.

    And the “My name is ______ ________” scene at the end is tremendous. All at once she delivers a hello & a goodbye, rejects an identity and embraces one, verbally brandishes both a weapon and a shield, and picks up a megaphone while also (to again borrow from Mr. Rock) dropping the mic. Honestly that scene was as exciting & satisfying to me as watching Immortan Joe’s face get Furiosa’d.

    In conclusion BLACKHAT was robbed.

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