Miranda Sajdak is a writer/producer/director currently living in Los Angeles. As a script reader, she has done coverage for producers of films ranging from indie hits like Drive to studio features including Final Destination, American Pie, and television shows Huge, Man in the High Castle, and My So-Called Life. She co-founded Script Chix in 2012 to provide coverage services to screenwriters. She was a winner of Go Into the Story‘s Quest Initiative in 2013 and was also a winner of The Next MacGyver competition in 2015, paired with mentor Clayton Krueger at Scott Free to develop original pilot Riveting. Her last project as a director premiered in L.A. at Outfest, and as a producer at Screamfest. She enjoys hard-hitting dramas, films with female leads, and ’90s legal thrillers. She takes film snarking suggestions over on Twitter @MirandaSajdak and further potentially dangerous lifestyle choices can be supported at https://www.gofundme.com/MirandaDirects.
For my Snark a Film column, I will be taking movies of all sorts – some I love, some I like, some I vehemently dislike – and tossing a big old flaming bag o’ snark at their lovely/delightful/stinky feet. I considered opening with Suffragette, but couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes (I assume the women get the vote at the end?). So, instead, the opening column of Snark is in honor of Brooklyn, one of the top Oscar® contenders of the past year, a film simultaneously gorgeous to look at and horrific to watch.
In Brooklyn, writer Nick Hornby has crafted the quintessential chick flick. There’s: a love triangle, beautiful clothes, shopping, and even a moment or two of humor involving women being catty towards one another. It’s basically the stuff Movies For Women are made of. And, yes, I despised it.
To backtrack. I lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years. My time there is a bit foggy, but was nowhere near as wonderful or hopeful as the film makes it out to be. My memories range from dueling with a never-ending supply of cockroaches to the apartment ceiling falling in during a particularly lengthy rainstorm. Not a pleasant time.
That said, however, I couldn’t possibly love Saoirse Ronan more. She is the epitome of people I either want to be or be BFFs with. I imagine her BFF spends lots of time staring at her otherworldly eyes or wondering how she manages to always seem so poised or generally being in awe of how great an actress she is (no? Just me, then? Okay, maybe best that we’re not friends).
Like my own time in Brooklyn, the film didn’t have much in the way of a character-motivated plot. Part of this is due to the lead character’s complete ineptitude. Used to Ronan in Hanna-mode, seeing her piddling around life, waiting for other people to do things so she could react to them, felt depressing, at best. But – that’s basically the entirety of the film. She gets a bit of decisiveness around the third act, but it takes her – and us – nearly two hours to get there.
The whole arc of the protagonist couldn’t be more irritating. While I’m not a heavy Save the Cat proponent, I’m exhausted – exhausted, I say! – by characters we’re supposed to like out of pity. I don’t want to pity the lead, I want to empathize with her. Here, the writer chose to craft difficult situations for Ronan (having to leave her family behind! Getting seasick and not having access to a toilet! Forever wearing the wrong clothes!) that are meant to make us like her. Instead, they made me despise her, as I had no point of reference to any sort of humanity in this awkward, ever-out-of-place girl. Is awkward the new black? Yep, I’d have shoved in a kitten rescue, if only to make it remotely empathetic – rather than purely pathetic. When she finally starts making choices for herself, her major decisions involve lying about her fiancé and misleading another guy into falling for her. It’s not exactly the stuff of great personal choices, and one ends up feeling like most of the quiet – and not majorly resonant – “bad things” that happen are ultimately her own fault… but not in a Greek tragedy sort of way, more in a “wow, this chick is irritating and maybe kind of a terrible person” sort of way. Cue complaints that “it was the time period” and “no one talks about anything in Ireland.”
Anyway, in the movie, Ronan’s character Ellis flounces around Ireland in nice dresses, ultimately heading to Brooklyn, where she flounces around in even nicer dresses (since her Irish dresses aren’t nice enough for Brooklyn), and falls for an Italian guy. She then moves back to Ireland to flounce around some more (now in clothing that’s way too nice for Ireland) and fall for an Irish guy. It’s sort of the same plot three times, with lots of flouncing and outfit-commentary. Like all of this Oscar®-season’s movies with lead women involved, she ends up working retail at a department store (OK, there’s no department store in Mad Max or Sicario. I haven’t seen Star Wars, so assume there is some kind of intergalactic Jedi shopping mall, and will stand by that). However, what the hell is it with women in period films working at department stores? At least Suffragette put Carey Mulligan in a laundry, where women truly belong.
Anyway, through various trials and tribulations, most of which don’t involve much in the way of trial OR tribulation (the only real negative here is a death, which takes her back to Ireland, but doesn’t seem to impact anyone much), she eventually grows from the reactive protagonist to an active one, without much in the way of meaning or purpose, even at the end. It’s much like Hornby’s prior film, Wild, which also relies heavily on its lead character meandering through a barely-purposeful story. Revealing the point at the end is a risky choice, and one that doesn’t really work in Brooklyn, which sort of ends without seeming to have any point, at all, unless pretty dresses are the main goal…in which case, this might have actually worked better as one of Ronan’s department store displays, rather than a two-hour feature. There’s also a scene with some homeless dude singing that’s supposed to make us sad and homesick, or at least make Ellis sad and homesick, but since we never cared much about her time in Ireland, it just felt mawkish.
Ultimately, Ronan tries her best and is quite believable as an Irish girl (and, yes, I know she’s an actual Irish girl), but the writing is a steaming pile worthy of snarkitude. It goes nowhere, slowly, and isn’t in the least satisfying or redemptive. If you’re all about slow movies with no meaning (“It’s JUST LIKE REAL LIFE!”) you may get something from this. I didn’t.
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