There’s a lot to admire here, and there could have easily been even more.
Movie Review #1,041
Fox Searchlight Pictures
1 hour, 51 minutes
Rated PG-13 (a scene of sexuality and brief strong language)
Released November 25, 2015
Directed by John Crowley
Screenplay by Nick Hornby
From the novel by Colm Toibin
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Eileen O’Higgins, Julie Walters, Emily Bett Rickards, Samantha Munro, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson
“Brooklyn” is a film that offers a perspective on an Irish immigrants experiences in the titular borough of New York City during the 1950s. Ironically, the experience of watching it mirrors an American’s experience with food when visiting a country in Europe for the first time. As Americans, we’re used to five-pancake meals at IHOP (or four, depending on which platter you order). We go to France and we fall in love with the taste of a great crêpe. But we realize that’s the portion size: one great crêpe.
Just like that one great crêpe, “Brooklyn” offers a lot to admire. Saoirse Ronan embodies the mousy lead to a T. She genuinely exhibits the silent emotions of Ellis, a woman who feels lost yet at home, having left her family in Ireland for a promising retail job in America. At times, we can almost feel her conflicting feelings of anxiety and adoration. Moments that develop the onscreen relationship between her and Tony (Domhnall Gleeson), an Italian young man who takes interest in Irish women, feels bona fide. Nick Hornby’s script brings to life their relationship, as well as Ellis’s experiences in the unfamiliar Brooklyn, with a spectacularly light, whimsical tone. Of course, the film meets one’s expectations of any period piece, particularly with its beautiful costume designs and its riveting score.
But just like that one great crêpe, we went in expecting so much more. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bechdel test, it is a measure of a film on whether it has (a) two women who (b) talk to each other about (c) something other than a man. “Brooklyn” fails the test. At worst, there’s two obnoxiously caricatured women that live at the boarding house with Ellis, and even in scenes without them, there isn’t a single scene in the movie where women are discussing anything other than boys and how one lives to impress them. Oh wait there is that one scene where Ellis’s boss, noticing that Ellis doesn’t seem quite herself, asks her if she is on her period. But I suppose if talking about menstruation instead of men is enough to pass a Bechdel test, then one can pass a drug test by getting a blood transfusion after smoking several ounces of marijuana. Many have labeled “Brooklyn” a “feminist” movie. I’d really like not to think that the concept of feminism is so shallow. I’m not saying that movies need to be feminist in order to be enjoyable, or that every film should pass the test. But considering that “Brooklyn” focuses primarily on women, its depiction feels rather superficial.