Awards Profile: Brooklyn

BrooklynWelcome to the 2015 Awards Profiles series.  For the next two months, every day (except for Saturday), we will bring you a run down of a future 2015 film that we see as a potential awards vehicle for next year’s Academy Awards.  This is all speculative since with just about all these films, we haven’t seen a frame yet.  Nonetheless, we venture on.  If you miss a film, then click on the tag “2015 Awards Profile.”

BROOKLYN

Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby, adapted from the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters.

Synopsis (courtesy of Fox Searchlight): “Brooklyn tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within..”

THE STORY OF BROOKLYN:

A beloved book about the immigrant experience in America has never met a film studio it hasn’t liked and for 2015, Fox Searchlight will be releasing Brooklyn, an already heralded adaptation of Irish novelist Colm Tóibín’s acclaimed and award-winning 2009 novel.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, Brooklyn looks at exile, loneliness, and a coming-of-age story through the eyes Eilis (Ronan), a young woman who leaves Ireland and her mother behind to make a life for herself in America. What begins as something light and airy, the story becomes increasingly more dramatic and poignant, as Eilis finds a home in a boarding house, fumbles around with a job and college courses, and crosses paths with a plumber named Tony (Cohen).

For Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is a story that resonated with him from a very young age. He told the Guardian in 2009, upon the release of his novel, “I know exactly where and when I heard it – the basic three sentences of the story,” he remembers. “After my father died, people used to call at the house and this woman was telling this story about her daughter. It was all Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn.”

Standing in as a symbol of the American Dream, Brooklyn the city and Brooklyn the film seem poised to leave an impact on viewers in ways both retrospective and introspective. Reports are that the production design by François Séguin’s team, coupled with the cinematography by Yves Bélanger is authentic and genuine, early reviews adding that director John Crowley sweeps viewers up into the time and place the film originates from. For older Academy viewers, and those who prefer to watch their screeners at home, this seems like a film which will play just as nicely on a big screen as it will on the smaller one.

The costumes by Emmy winner Odile Dicks-Mireaux are also receiving praise and the initial takeaway from Sundance is that this is a film that immerses you quickly, accurately, and never lets you go either visually or emotionally.

Brooklyn2A previous Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for 2007’s Atonement, Saoirse Ronan is drawing Best Actress nomination talk for her commanding work as Eilis. While others have feted the work of Ronan, supporting performances by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, Oscar nominee Julie Walters as a stodgy and repressive landlady at the boarding house, Domnhall Gleeson, as a man who catches Einis’ eye upon her return to Ireland, it is Emory Cohen who could be the breakout star from the film.

Portraying Tony, an Italian plumber just trying to make his way through young adulthood, in a parallel to Eilis’ character, Cohen is said to give a “star-making performance”, with Variety comparing his performance to that of a “young Brando.” Cohen, who gave a divisive performance in 2013’s The Place Beyond The Pines as Bradley Cooper’s son has worked consistently for years, but has never really broken through. Is his time now?

Ronan and Cohen have received high praise for the romance they bring to light on screen and those who have read Tóibín’s novel will note that one important scene, one crucial to the film’s success, requires the very best from both of them. If they do hit it out of the park, and Brooklyn is as true-to-life and resonating a film as reports indicate, then this could be a defining moment in the young careers of Ronan, age 20, and Cohen, 25.

WHY IT MAY SUCCEED:

Immigrant stories, and those which embrace America, have been well-received by Oscar in the past and for John Crowley and Nick Hornby, Brooklyn seems to be more than just a nice film with some good performances and believable below-the-line work.

Crowley’s fifth feature seems to be the one where everything comes together for the filmmaker. Nick Hornby, a previous Oscar nominee for his adaptation of 2009 Best Picture nominee An Education, rebounds from a near miss for his Wild adaptation, and with Brooklyn his writing has been described as “magical”, “emotionally turbulent”, and “a thing of beauty” by critics as diverse as writers from RogerEbert.com, the New York Post, and the Hollywood Reporter.

Fox Searchlight dropped $9 million on the film’s distribution rights the day after its premiere at Sundance and have positioned the film for a November 6, 2015 release date in New York and Los Angeles. The traditional rollout will likely follow and, if all goes according to plan, by December’s critics’ award battle royale, Brooklyn should be in voters’ hands, drawing nice per screen averages in 300-400 theaters, and well on its way to a lengthy cinematic stay through Oscar season.

Tóibín’s novel is well-regarded and his blending of frank and unflinching subject matter, with an endearing respect to his characters gives Crowley, Hornby, and their cast plenty to play with here. Brooklyn, if as good as people seem to say it is, could easily be a big number, high profile nominee next January, when nominations are announced for the 88th Academy Awards. 

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED:

Sundance buzz does not always translate to Oscar success, no matter how loud and proud the critical notices tend to be. The potential exists that Brooklyn will play too youthful and Ronan and Cohen’s work will be seen as the work of actors whose time will come back around again – the “they were so good here, they’ll be good again” concept of voting.

A film like Brooklyn is also a movie that can easily be lost in the shuffle if other films make louder and more impressionable impacts on audiences. Brooklyn seems like a film that will need that word-of-mouth and slow burning buzz to let it grab hold of audiences and voters. The good news is that the film is only one of two non-wide releases already scheduled for November (the other being The Danish Girl). Fox Searchlight clearly believes in it, but what films will emerge and step up into that robust month, clamoring for Oscar’s attention. So many of the films featured in Awards Profiles this year still are awaiting release dates and Brooklyn could get left behind.

For Brooklyn to click in a big way with Oscar, it needs to find some sliver of mainstream acceptance and be significantly embraced by Academy members. Some Oscar history exists here with Ronan, Walters, and Broadbent, Hornby as a screenwriter, and producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, who scored with An Education earning a 2009 Best Picture nod. Everywhere else however, these are new names and faces for Oscar to consider. Crowley has never had a film come close to Oscar’s radar before and for the different branches, who tend to embrace friends and colleagues first, Brooklyn has an uphill climb in so many categories – Score, Cinematography, Costumes, Editing, Production Design, etc.

Also, the film does not feature a virtuoso, career-defining performance like last year’s Still Alice or Whiplash. Voters are going to have be reminded a few times over that Brooklyn is sitting in their screener pile. Box office and strong word-of-mouth will help, but if audiences and attention shifts elsewhere, Brooklyn could easily be another in a long line of great films that “…shoulda been a contender.”

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

Best Picture (Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey)
Best Director (John Crowley)
Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan)
Best Actor/Supporting Actor (Emory Cohen, time will tell where he is campaigned)
Best Supporting Actor (Domnhall Gleeson, crucial to the film’s second half)
Best Supporting Actress (Julie Walters)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby)
Best Cinematography (Yves Bélanger)
Best Costume Design (Odile Dicks-Mireaux)
Best Film Editing (Jake Roberts)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling (Edwina Voda, Roland Cory McCutcheon)
Best Original Score (Michael Brook)
Best Production Design (François Séguin, others TBD)

Brooklyn 
will be released in New York and Los Angeles by Fox Searchlight on November 6, 2015.