It’s been well documented, especially with the advent of the Twitter hash tag #OscarsSoWhite, that the make-up of the Academy is overwhelmingly old and glowingly white. Oscar voters love to reward films that treat the not-too-distant past with a loving soft focus. For every 12 Years A Slave that demands a reckoning with ugly truths, there is a Driving Miss Daisy that reaffirms things weren’t all that bad, really. Brooklyn is one of those. Set in 1952, the movie focuses on one of the many Irish citizens that came to America at the time. There’s a long history of Irish immigrants being looked down on by people who considered themselves “real Americans,” but the movie dispenses with this mentality by using it for a quick bit of comic relief. The main character Eilis (in the character’s home country of Ireland, it’s pronounced AY-lish) learns that all it takes to assimilate to the American way of life is grit and determination. Because this is a movie devoted to a rose-colored view of history, that’s all Eilis needs in order to succeed.
There is a sentimentality and nostalgia for a simpler time that permeates every frame of Brooklyn. As you might expect from a movie that completely romanticizes a bygone era, the filmmakers take great care in beautifully photographing their tale. The performances from the leads, too, are top notch. Those elements can’t overcome the simplistic and predictable story, though, or the movie’s slavish devotion to its idea of the good old days.
Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who moves to the New York borough in search of a better life. Eilis experiences seasickness while aboard the steamship that transports her to America and, in an example of the easily digestible kind of symbolism Brooklyn employs, the suffering she endures on her first trans-Atlantic trip represents the crushing homesickness she struggles with while trying to adjust to life in a new world. During the journey, a more experienced traveler takes Eilis under her wing. The woman provides instruction on what food to avoid while on board and, more importantly, how to conduct herself once they arrive at the U.S. port of entry.