Hannah Dunleavy isn’t averse to a bit of history. And she couldn’t help but notice the awards buzz around Brooklyn. So she watched it. And now she’s sore she’ll never get that time back. WARNING: Contains spoilers for the whole film.
It’s not rare to watch a film collect an award and think, “But it didn’t deserve to win.” Of course whoever thought Crash was a better film than Brokeback Mountain needs their Oscar voting privileges taken away, but awards don’t mean anything really, do they? (Incidentally, you can vote for Standard Issue to win a Chortle Award here. No pressure.)
After nothing but rave reviews and Oscars buzz for months and months, Brooklyn picked up the Best British Film Bafta. And I thought, you know what, I like a bit of history, maybe I will enjoy it after all.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I can’t seem to keep quiet about it. Because this isn’t just a film that fails to understand women, it appears to actively loathe them.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Colm Tóibín and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, it tells the tale of Eilis, who leaves a chocolate-box Ireland for a new life in New York in the 1950s.
Now, before you say it, I know it’s set in a time when the search for a husband had a little more urgency than it does today. But you know what, so’s Call the Midwife and that doesn’t define a woman’s success in terms of that search. And yes, I know Brooklyn looks lovely (if not a little Vaseline slathered) and its attention to historical detail should be praised. But that can only carry a film so far. You need a bit of meat in the stew, right?
“It’s back to the old country where everyone stares open-mouthed at the very idea of someone having been to New York City, despite the fact that doing exactly that has been a national pastime in Ireland since God’s dog was a pup.”
Let’s start with our heroine – or should that be anti-heroine? – played with a blank-faced commitment by the talented Saoirse Ronan, in a performance that’s been praised uphill and down dale for its quiet beauty. But the truth is, she’s got nearly nothing to work with, making her like the Mona Lisa: a beautiful face on which men can superimpose whatever it is they want her to be. (And believe me, they have: check out some reviews and you’ll find a particular brand of wish fulfilment on display.)
In truth, Eilis is almost entirely two dimensional and what few flashes of personality she shows are deeply unpleasant.
We first find her in Ireland, working in a shop run by a shrew (check), living with her manipulative mother (check) and her saintly sister (check), and hanging around with her man-hungry best friend (check). Any stereotype we haven’t covered? Oh yes: bitches.
But don’t worry, it’s not long before she meets some of those, because she’s off to America on a boat where some bitches lock her out of the toilet. And some bitch at her new job shouts at her for not asking enough questions about her weekend. Bitches just keep being bitches, amiright?
She does meet someone else on the boat, a worldly older woman who seems to be a bitch, but is actually nice underneath (check) – which is about the biggest waste of the talents of Eva Birthistle I’ve seen yet.
Brooklyn‘s so keen on this stereotype it repeats it twice more, with Eilis’s new boss, played by Mad Men‘s Jessica Paré, and her new landlady, played by Julie Walters. (I’d like to say, for the record, that I fucking love Julie Walters and if anything ever, ever persuaded me to revisit this monstrosity it’d be her.)
“’If only life had been like this before I left,’ Ellis muses aloud, in a statement that might well have been, ‘If only my job-hogging sister had died years ago.’”
She’s not the only resident at the boarding house. There are a few more man-hungry types, plus a tragic abandoned woman (check) and another one that no one cares about because she’s ugly (check). She later disappears, perhaps to live life with a bag over her head, and is replaced by the wild-haired Dolores who, outside of a gobshite eight-year-old, is the best thing in this film, but is shunned because she’s a bit odd. Having experienced how tough it can be to arrive in a new city and have no one, our heroine takes Dolores under her wing and off to a dance… where she abandons her.
But none of this matters because while she is there SHE MEETS A MAN. Score!
Suddenly, she’s all sunshine and smiles, despite the fact they have nothing even approaching chemistry. But it’s not long before disaster strikes and back in Ireland her sister Rose literally withers on the vine and is found dead on the floor. It’s never explained what was wrong with her but I strongly suspect spinsteritis. Which gives mammy the perfect excuse to emotionally blackmail her daughter back to Ireland. Because mothers.
Before she leaves, she and her boyfriend decide to marry and then keep it a secret because how else would the rest of the film unfold?
Then it’s back to the old country where everyone stares open-mouthed at the very idea of someone having been to New York City, despite the fact that doing exactly that has been a national pastime in Ireland since God’s dog was a pup.
The great news is that her man-hungry friend has snared herself a man (score!) and is about to get married, so through a process of bullying and manipulation, Eilis is persuaded to stay for longer. This gives her the time to step into her sister’s old job and give Domhnall Gleeson’s excellently blazered Jim every reason to hope that she’s actually interested in marrying him.
“If only life had been like this before I left,” she muses aloud, in a statement that might well have been, “If only my job-hogging sister had died years ago.”
Meanwhile, her husband is frantically writing letters she ignores because it’s going to cut into the time she has available to stare at the ceiling and, for variety, into the middle distance.
“This isn’t just a film that fails to understand women, it appears to actively loathe them. Which wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact it’s packaged and promoted as a women’s film.”
All around her Jim’s mother, her mother and Biddy O’Nosy (check) are flapping with anticipation that she MIGHT BE ABOUT TO SNAG A MAN, but what’s that? Someone’s looming in the distance with a letter from America. Oh yes, it’s the old shrew she used to work with, who’s about to ruin everything by telling everyone she is actually already married. Or, as it’s otherwise known, the truth. Fucking shrews eh? Always spoiling it for wannabe bigamists.
So, she hotfoots it back across the Atlantic to her husband, but not before explaining everything to her new love in a letter, because a) that’s always the best way to do that sort of thing and b) she’s a woman who always reads a letter herself.
But get this, on the boat back, she’s the wise older woman, and decides to impart her wisdom to a grey-skinned young woman: you be the bitch who locks the door and when you get to Brooklyn find yourself a man.
I think there’s a lesson for us all there. Probably not to believe the critics.2027 Views
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.