“Like a virgin” should be Brooklyn’s real title, or logline.
I am an expat myself, a single young Chinese woman living on her own in the US of A. So yes, I am more than curious about this immigrant story.
Is it NOT an immigrant struggle story?
In general, the movie title carries the most weight. And this one is called — Brooklyn. So, duh.
To begin with, we never knew why she left Ireland. “There is nothing left for me here.” Our heroine Eilis stated sadly but with a tinge of determination. I am not familiar with the Irish history back in the 1950s. But darling, would you mind giving us some more background information rather than her working in a banal grocery shop under a demanding spinster owner?
16 minutes into the story (please bear with a screenwriting student’s kink to time the structure and the pacing), our Eilis finally, finally landed America without getting evicted on the Ellis Island.
I then thought —
Okay, now it’s going to be how much she struggled to adjust into her life in America in the 1950s, right?
But uh-huh. Lo and behold, I waited and waited.
Was there ever an exterior struggle?
- Eilis’s mother had her old-time golfing club friend Father Flood in Brooklyn arranged everything for Eilis.
- Father Flood became Eilis’s sponsor, so Eilis didn’t need to worry about her visa, her accommodation. *What’s better than having someone look after you without having to doubt the man want something more? He’s a priest, he preaches. Eilis is safe. No sugar daddy problem, ever.
- Eilis’s bunkmate on the ship, Georgina taught her how to dress like a tart to pass the immigration screening.
- Eilis landed a decent job of her caliber at Bartocci’s, Brooklyn’s fancy department store skipping all sorts of screening and interview. *A Chinese would say, that’s some strong Guanxi there.
- Eilis with her distinct Irish accent, made no friends at the fancy department store. The tease by the restaurant service guy was too subtle to get into the skin. Or it was me too thick-skinned?
- The poor American co-worker at Bartocci’s made such an effort throwing herself with Eilis by striking a one-way conversation — “What did you see, Dorothy? I saw ‘The Quiet Man’, Eilis. They filmed it in Ireland. Oh, I’m from Ireland. I know you are. That’s why I thought you might be interested.” And then, “Thank you” was all Eilis could muster. My jaw almost dropped. Well, if your mother tongue is not English like me, I would not mind you just utter a simple harmless “Thank you.” But dude, you do speak English even though with an accent. How could you survive when you don’t even make an effort making new friends at work when the person seemed nice and approachable?
- Father Flood paid for her first term tuition at the Brooklyn College to study accounting so she could climb up the career ladder, being the ambitious expat career woman in the 1950s. Father Flood, what an Angel you are.
- Then enters sweet Tony, the jolly good Italian plumber boy at the Irish Ball who digs Irish girl. He fell for Eilis, even though she didn’t even talk normal. When Tony asked to walk her home, Eilis replied, “I’m going to say yes, then I’m going to tell you why.” Maybe she was too uptight a girl being brought up in a uptight family in remote Ireland? It didn’t matter. They fell in love. They never bickered. Tony’s family loved Eilis.
How convenient! La vie est belle!
I then thought to myself, so Brooklyn has to be a feel-good movie about a boy and a girl fell in love and lived happily ever after?
Then Eilis’s sister died in Ireland, the reason of which puzzles me still. Eilis had to go back. Tony, being the sweet and thoughtful down-to-earth boyfriend he had always been, asked Eilis to marry him after Eilis clunky encouragement, “If you ask me again today, I might say I love you too.”
What kind of human being talks like that?
Anyway, they did get married at the City Hall.
But, let’s not skip the chapter that Eilis invited Tony for a sleepover at her place the night before they married.
Eilis, being the rational girl the whole time, what about your promise to Mrs. Kehoe and her trust in you being the good girl?
The two of them on the single bed, it squeaked. I cringed.
Then Eilis took us back to Ireland. Enters the dashing well-to-do rugby player who conveniently fell for her and her newfound confidence and style. They went to the beach. Eilis put on exactly the same bathing suit when Tony, now her husband, invited her to Coney Island. If she was self-conscious then, now she was sophisticated.
You go back home for your sister’s death and to console your heartbroken mother. But you didn’t forget to pack your green flirty swimwear?
I smell trouble, Plumber Boy.
Being the girl with an American accountant certification, she landed a part-time job at Davis’s — her late sister Rose’s job.
At that point, I finally realized she was to play with two guys’ hearts. She wrote back to Tony only once and became touchy-feely with this nice Irish fella.
The second time she was home, she was rude and arrogant. She was pretentious even. It made her agony over leaving her hometown later at the knowledge of her sister Rose’s death hypocritic and very much underdeveloped.
Then came the just-in-time warning of the vicious shop owner. Feeling insulted, Eilis made up her mind and bought a ticket back to America before her reputation in Ireland was ruined, because “people talk.”
Eilis mustered her Irish courage —
I’d forgotten what this town is like. What were you planning to do, Miss Kelly? Keep me away from Jim? Stop me from going back to America? Perhaps you didn’t even know. Perhaps it was enough for you to know that you could ruin me.
My name is Eilis Fiorello.
Oh, now you are suddenly a Mrs. Fiorello. How convenient.
Miss Kelly, the Irish shop owner, is the only villain-ish character in the movie. Who did what? She merely tries to warm the young girl against the danger of bigamy, and to remind her that she was married already back in America. I thought that was quite admirable of Miss Kelly.
I feel truly sad for the Irish block. All he got was an explanatory letter that the audience didn’t even know what Eilis actually said. But of course, we need not to know. Years of self-explanatory cliche movie montages are enough to fill in the blank.
I feel so much sadder for her Italian husband, Tony. When Eilis leaned against the Bronx brick wall waiting for him after work in her floral Sunday dress with a shade of dusk on her gorgeous and now sophisticated Irish complexion, who could resist? Not this lovesick Irish-loving pasta-eating sweet plumber.
Well, you don’t have a clue about your Irish wife, do you?
Even if you do, whatcha gonna do ‘bout it?
Some side notes:
- On Dolores:
I just feel sorry for the nerdy girl Eilis boarded with.
During her first meeting with Tony, our adorable innocent Eilis told him that she thought Dolores was “awful. If I leave with you, I’m sure she’d understand. You’d be rescuing me.”
I actually am quite fond of Dolores’s brutal honesty. Nobody danced with her. She was beyond bored. She didn’t even try to sabotage others’ dates. Being in the same ballroom with her, I thought Eilis was going to help her to find a dancing partner. But no, she teased her with the Italiano, and begged him to walk her home so she didn’t have to be with the poor nerdy gal.
Shame on you, Eilis.
- The icy supervisor at Bartocci’s, Miss Fortini, suddenly grew fond of Eilis. It seemed laughable and unconvincing.
Her quote below —
Eilis! You’re like a different person! Where did that miserable little mouse go?
How did you do it? Maybe I can pass some advice on to the next poor girl who feels that way.
I’m not passing that on. I’d rather have them homesick than heartbroken. Does he talk about baseball all the time? Or his mother?
Then keep him. There isn’t another Italian man like him in New York.
- All those dialogues, seem way too on the nose.
I respect her the way she was, before she was nice. She didn’t need to be nice or likable. Being strict as supervisor at a high-end mall was her job. Why else would I hire her were I the store manager?
It’s hard to get a movie made, but such a beige movie made me moan the loss of the two hours of my life which I’d rather jerk off.
As I finish typing this review, I realized Nick Hornby was the screenwriter, the guy who adapted Lynn Barber’s An Education, which I adored.
Sorry dude, no love from me this time. But wait, I really am not sorry, apart from the fact that I saw the film.