Brooklyn/Carol/Danish Girl

Dangerous Passages

by Glenn Lovell

Three new movies featuring five critically acclaimed performances — four by females, one by a male playing a sexually confused painter in 1920s Denmark who longs to be female. Each of the five, including Eddie Redmayne’s transsexual in “The Danish Girl,” has been nominated for Golden Globes. Expect more accolades when Oscar announces its nominees in February.

“Brooklyn” ✮✮✮✮

If there’s a sweeter, more uplifting entertainment currently making the rounds than the Irish-UK-Canadian co-production “Brooklyn,” I’m not aware of it. That trite designation “feel-good” seems inadequate in describing this melodrama about an Irish teenager who, in 1951, relocates to Brooklyn, N.Y. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s the kind of movie that cuts across demographics — kids can watch it with their parents and grandparents and come away feeling all goose-pimply about its never more timely civics lesson.

Directed by John Crowley and scripted by Nick Hornby, from a novel by Colm Tóibín, this unassuming but deeply felt import stars Saoirse Ronan as an adventurous young woman named Eilis, who, encouraged by an older sister, turns her back on her depressed hometown and sets sail for the Land of Opportunity.images

We’ve gone this route before, with usually calamitous results. Conditioned by one too many Martin Scorsese films — his take on the immigrant experience in “Gangs of New York,” in particular — we assume, cynically, that the worst will befall this innocent abroad. Her new landlady (Julie Walters), her department store boss (Jessica Paré) and scrawny Italian-American boyfriend (Emory Cohen), as well as the parish priest (Jim Broadbent) who has vowed to look after Eilis, will all turn out to be rotters who bilk and betray the gullible newcomer.

When this doesn’t happen, we’re pleasantly surprised. And we keep on being surprised by this unpretentious little gem. It’s full of reassuring vignettes, starting with a worldly stranger’s advice on the ocean crossing and including the giddy patter at Mrs. Kehoe’s (Walters) dinner table and Eilis’s nervous preparation for an outing to Coney Island.

With the exception of a guilt-tripping mother and a gossipy grocer, both back home in Enniscorthy, everyone seems to want the best for the new arrival, most of all boyfriend Tony, who, as played by Cohen, has the heavy-lidded insouciance of a young Val Kilmer. As the relationship evolves we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it does in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” when Harvey Keitel’s knight-errant turns vicious, but Tony is exactly who he says he is — a genuinely nice guy who wants only the best for Eilis.

Pay particular attention to Walters’ landlady and Broadbent’s chaperon-priest. With a minimum of screen time, these vets turn in two of the best supporting performances of the year. As Eilis Ronan does more than fulfill the early promise of “Atonement.” Her new arrival to the big city is anything but the stereotypical country bumpkin. She’s nervous and homesick, yes, but she also speaks her mind … and, during a trip home to see mum, proves surprisingly headstrong, even a bit duplicitous. And such contradictory traits, in the end, are what makes her character so memorable.

Do yourself a favor, check out “Brooklyn.” It’s the perfect holiday gift to yourself.

“Carol” ✮✮

The latest from director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman at first feels like a companion piece to the team’s “Far from Heaven,” their homage to Douglas Sirk formalism. Once again we’re in a 1950s Eisenhower-era time warp where plot takes a backseat to retro fashions, set design, etc. And as with that earlier art-house melodrama about a frustrated wife (played by Julianne Moore) who tests racial barriers, this one tackles forbidden love and small-minded attitudes about same. Only now, rather than the husband, it’s the wife who’s drawn to a same-sex dalliance. Also, instead of the color-saturated palette of the earlier collaboration, the photography here is muted, almost mustardy yellow, like a tinted Look Magazine ad from the period.

Working from Patricia Highsmith’s quasi-autobiographical first novel, a lesbian romance titled “The Price of Salt” (try stripping that across a marquee), Haynes introduces us to a bored New York socialite who’s attracted to a considerably younger woman who works at a department store but fancies herself an East Village bohemian with aspirations of becoming a professional photographer. Haynes and scenarist Phyllis Nagy begin at the end, with the two women rendezvousingn in a Manhattan restaurant. Obviously at a sensitive juncture in their relationship, they’re interrupted by a loutish male friend of the younger woman. (All the men in this film are square-jawed and clueless.) This awkward leave-taking is straight out of the Noel Coward-David Lean heart-tugger “Brief Encounter.” Before you’re done with this languorous pas de deux other influences may leap to mind, starting with “Desert Hearts” and “Lolita” and including half the Sirk oeuvre.

That the melodramatic “Carol” has been wildly over-praised can be chalked up to the casting of Cate Blanchett as the titular socialite who can’t quite extract herself from a sham marriage and Rooney Mara (“Her”) as the malleable Therese, the latest object of Carol’s wandering eye. Blanchett is fine as the determined yet oddly withdrawn wife and mother of one. But there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen her do before in “Blue Jasmine” and “Notes on a Scandal.” In the end we’re left with subtle variations on a single sour note: misery. Mara fares better as the gradually smitten errand girl-traveling companion because for most of the movie she doesn’t know her own mind, or sexual preference. She’s as curious and befuddled as Carol is cynical, resigned. Therein lies the seed of an erotic mystery-melodrama. Unfortunately, even with the requisite gun introduced in the second act, this seed never bears fruit, strange or otherwise.

“The Danish Girl” ✮✮1/2

BROOKLYN With Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott. Directed by John Crowley; scripted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín. 111 min. PG-13 (some adult content, but OK for family viewing)

CAROL With Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson. Directed by Todd Haynes; scripted by Phyllis Nagy. 118 min. R (for adult subject matter, fleeting nudity)

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