Sunday, January 10, 2016

Brooklyn: An Immigrant Woman's Love Triangle

A historical period drama.  It may not be the most exciting first sentence, nor perhaps the most exciting film genre, but Brooklyn has a strong, quiet beauty in its 1950s backdrop as it shows an Irish immigrant woman's struggle to adjust to a new country and eventually choose between two men.  On one hand, she can stay in New York to be with a sincere, sweet-hearted Italian and his hilarious family, or return permanently to Ireland to be with a kind, charming Irish man and her heartbroken family.  You probably already know how this is going to go from the thousands of romantic movies that Hollywood throws at us ever year, but let me tell you why this particular drama was worth seeing.


Eilis Lacey is sent to Brooklyn by her sister Rose in order to pursue a better life, but of course the transition is difficult.  However, she receives so much more support than from just a romantic partner, although that is the focus.  Everyone from a woman she meets on the boat ride, to her boss at the department store, to the priest sponsoring her, to the girls who live in her building offer her advice, guidance, and friendship.  As she opens up to her new environment, Eilis demonstrates a great sense of humor (which made me laugh several times) and confidence in behavior and appearance (which I liked seeing in her developing fashion sense).  I enjoyed watching her build a relationship with Tony, with whom she had a lot of cute interactions and great overall chemistry, and meet Tony's family, including his outspoken, genius little brother.  Boy, did that kid make me crack up.

When Eilis revisits Ireland, almost immediately her family, friends and neighbors try to suck her back into their small town for good.  Part of her wants that familiarity, but another remembers what she has left in Brooklyn.  She has the chance to work as a bookkeeper as she's always wanted, and she has met a man her mother approves of who is interested in her.  I could feel her teetering on the edge, experiencing the pull of her love in Brooklyn and the pull of loyalty to her grieving mother as if I were Eilis.  The scene that motivates her to make her final decision had a sucker punch power to it that made me so proud of her character growth.

My favorite part comes toward the end, when Eilis meets a girl who is taking the same journey she originally took to Brooklyn and gives her pointers on practicalities as well as the emotional transition.  That scene rounded out the film well, both in terms of plot and character, and made me better appreciate immigrants who have done what Eilis did.  Brooklyn has a love triangle, but it's not simply the one between two men.  It's the one between two countries, two homes, two lives that Eilis (as well as many real life women) inhabits and loves with different aspects of her being.  Who, or really what, she chooses is irrelevant for we who look at Brooklyn, however. What is our safe, familiar Ireland and our risky, terrifying America, and which one are we going for in our lives?  That's a question I think we might be much less willing to answer.

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