Brooklyn (2015) Analysis

I heard a little bit of buzz about Brooklyn while it was playing in theaters but not enough to get a clear picture of the movie. Brooklyn is an Irish-Canadian-British drama directed by John Crowley and written by Nick Hornby, based on a novel of the same name. The novel was somewhat successful overseas but not exactly a huge cultural hit in the states. Brooklyn flew under the radar for me in 2015. I began to get a better idea of whether I would like the film when I saw clips of it during the 2015 Oscars. Wow, the protagonist has an Irish accent. Maybe I would enjoy this movie. Well, I enjoyed Brooklyn quite a bit. The following is my analysis of the film and celebration of what makes it great (spoilers lie ahead).

The protagonist of the film is Eilis Lacey, a young woman living in southeast Ireland with her mother and sister. Eilis works on weekends but her boss is mean and Eilis doesn’t really like Irish men because all they do is play rugby so Eilis decides to try her luck in America. She goes to Brooklyn where she lives in a boarding home with other Irish women and works at a department store. At a dance Eilis meets an Italian man named Tony with whom she develops a relationship. At this point life gets a lot better for Eilis because Tony makes her feel like Brooklyn is home. Unfortunately Eilis must go back to Ireland when her sister dies to comfort her mother. This is where the major tension of the story becomes apparent. Eilis finds that Ireland could possibly be a better place to live than America. A very eligible bachelor is interested in her and she is needed to take her sister’s job. It’s possible and perhaps likely that moving back to America would be a mistake. After talking with her old boss, Eilis remembers why she moved to America in the first place, because there are no secrets in Ireland. The film ends with Eilis and Tony reuniting happily.

Eilis is a great character and the primary reason why this film succeeds. I rooted for Eilis the entire film because she is relatable and a good person. She doesn’t smoke or wear makeup be she is respectful, religious and intelligent. She’s the kind of person that raises up the people around her. Tony is not a particularly attractive person but Eilis sees his good nature and that is enough for her. She is also genuine and able to maintain her cool in tough situations. What’s interesting is that despite all her strengths, Eilis’s life is still very difficult. When Eilis finally feels comfortable in America, life throws her a curveball, forcing her to go back to Ireland. When Eilis starts to feel comfortable in Ireland, again life throws another curveball, reminding her why she left in the first place. No matter where Eilis ends up there is going to be good and bad. The question boils down to what Eilis wants personally, not what other people want for her. I think there is value in looking at how Eilis handles the ups and downs of her life.

I also want to touch on this story’s ending. From a filmmaker’s perspective the ending is the most difficult part of the story to create. How a movie ends says a lot about the intentions behind it and how it wants the audience to feel. Brooklyn ends on what appears to be a very happy note with Eilis realizing that she belongs with Tony and the couple embracing in the streets of Brooklyn. The films wants you, the audience member, to leave with a sense of possibility, the feeling that the future is bright for Eilis and Tony. Being the misanthrope that I am, I find it difficult to accept this ending at face value. Eilis is clearly superios to Tony in several ways. She is smarter and will have many more opportunities in life than Tony, who may have great ambitions but I imagine him having difficulty making those ambitions real. The film leaves the possibility of misfortune open. Many people will accept the happy ending because the want to feel happy themselves. I entertain the possibilities of both happy and sad endings to learn more about life.

Brooklyn is certainly a movie worth watching twice or three times. It takes place in the 1950s but its themes and characters can exist in any time period. It is profoundly human and I look forward to watching it again in the future.

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl Review

Here’s a movie that you probably didn’t know existed. It didn’t get oscar buzz or win awards but I think it’s one of the best movies that came out in 2015. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a coming-of-age comedy/drama based on a graphic novel of the same name. It premiered at Sundance and had a limited release in August of 2015. It’s the story of a 15-year-old girl named Minnie who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend named Monroe. With this kind of taboo relationship it’s easy to label it as statutory rape because that is what the law says. This movie does not give you that easy answer. The relationship between Minnie and Monroe is consensual. It’s easy to understand why a teenage girl would be attracted to an older man and vice versa. Their relationship is more natural and healthy than most relationships depicted in the media.

I love movies that don’t provide easy answers, mix different tones and possess human characters. This movie does all of those things. It could definitely be watched a second time as there is a ton of information and meaning packed into its shots. The team responsible for making this movie had a solid idea of what they wanted to accomplish.

When a movie is adapted from a source it can be difficult to determine what is original. A good rule of thumb is to look at what the author of the original work has said about the adapted work. In this case author Phoebe Gloeckner has not said very much, according to Wikipedia. The only revealing tidbit is that that writer/director Marielle Heller first created a play before the film so she was probably the most qualified person to make this film.

If you are at all interested in strong female characters, taboo relationships or good movies, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is required viewing. The world needs more movies like this one. It’s unfortunate that the film did not reach a wider audience but maybe that is a good thing. In a few years I could absolutely see this movie having a devoted cult following.


Anomalisa Analysis

At long last I watched Anomalisa, the new Charlie Kaufman movie with stop-motion characters. This is a weird movie. Thankfully its weird in a good way. The way that makes you think about something harder rather than dismiss it outright. As soon as I finished watching it, I searched desperately for what other people had to say about it. You should watch this movie more than once and you should watch it on as big a screen as possible.

Here’s the setup. Michael Stone is a customer service self-help writer of some acclaim. He travels to Cincinnati to give a speech where he stays at a hotel called The Fregoli, a nod to a psychological delusion that plays a role in the film. Michael Stone sees everyone as having the same face and voice. We as the audience see the world in the same way that Michael Stone does. It’s likely that the other characters don’t suffer from the same delusion. In his hotel room, Michael hears the distinct voice of a woman and frantically searches for her. He finds her and takes her to the bar for drinks. Soon Michael and the woman, named Lisa, are in Michael’s hotel room where they have sex. The next morning Michael starts hearing Lisa’s unique voice as the voice of everyone else. Instead of running away with Lisa, Michael decides to return home to his wife and son.

This movie requires attention to detail for it to be analyzed. There are a lot of very subtle signs that may or may not reveal larger thematic ideas. To properly analyze this movie, one would ideally have taken notes while watching it and possibly rewinded the movie during key scenes to watch them again.

This film could be analyzed from a material perspective. That is to say, what meaning can be found in how the film was created. The film walks a line between reality and fantasy. The events that take place could easily exist in the real world, so why did Kaufman use stop-motion animation for this particular story? Who really knows? Is the animation style merely a gimmick?

Not every story needs to have a lesson. I am somewhat familiar with this idea. Many stories exist to be didactic, meaning they have a specific lesson or moral. Often an entire story can be distilled into one specific lesson. This is true of fairy tales and stories in the Bible. I would say that the moral of Anomalisa is to look for beauty in other people, the basic gist of Michael Stone’s customer service speech. Empathize with other people. Everyone has pain and everyone is a unique being. Smile because it requires little effort and could potentially make someone else’s day a lot better. Anyone who has worked in customer service already knows this. It’s not a radical new idea. Everyone claims that Michael Stone’s book greatly improved their business, yet his advice seems obvious. He is telling people obvious ideas that they should already be implementing.

Also, Michael sees every other person as having the same face and voice so why would you take his advice. He literally treats all other people the same because they are all the same in his mind. Michael is also the kind of guy who immediately attempts to cheat on his wife the second he arrives in Cincinnati. His credibility is suspect. Maybe his advice works for other people, but his own life is certainly a disaster.

Later in the film, Michael remarks to Lisa, “Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.” I really like this quote despite its circularity. No lesson is a lesson to people who expect lessons from stories/experiences. This might be the major theme of Anomalisa. This is also a depressing idea to think about. One can always look for a lesson so why deny someone this ability? I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I suppose I like lessons sometimes, so I’m not willing to accept a scenario where there are no lessons, especially in a movie where everything is seemingly littered with meaning. Humans are predisposed to find and create meaning wherever they can. To me meaning and lessons are practically interchangeable. If there’s no lesson at all in Anomalisa, then what’s the point of watching it?

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Review

In my opinion, Mad Max: Fury Road was the best film of 2015. I have watched it four times now and I will probably keep watching it for a long time. When I try to think of something bad to say about it, my mind goes blank. Sure you could make some criticisms, but why would you? The film combines amazing action with amazing storytelling with amazing characters in an amazing world. There is so much to talk about in Mad Max: Fury Road. A blog post does not do the film justice.

Fury Road is straight up entertaining. Often I get bored during movies and find myself thinking of reasons why the movie sucks. This is not the case with Fury Road. The film draws my attention from start to finish. I even relish the slower parts because they provide some rest from the non-stop action. The action is relentless and brutal. There are several moments that are mind-blowing. No other movie released in 2015 came close to delivering the same experience.

If you have not seen Mad Max: Fury Road, I have to assume that you either don’t like movies, or you live under a rock. Please see this movie and give it all the support you can muster. It’s the type of movie that I avoid writing about because I don’t want to influence anyone else’s experience of it. See this movie.