Friday, January 1, 2016

Star Wars Goes to Brooklyn

Yes, over the holidays I saw the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve read many of the gripes from über-fans, like the one about how this new flick is derivative, and how it lacks the mythological profundity with which George Lucas laced his original Star Wars universe. There’s not enough of Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces in the J.J. Abrams approach? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I expected from The Force Awakens an entertaining thrill-ride, a sort of audio-visual theme park attraction, and that’s exactly what I got.

Certainly this film was a lot more fun than a critics’ darling of a movie, like Todd Haynes’ Carol. Not that I’m opposed to a carefully-crafted drama that broaches thorny social issues. Not that I’m at all upset by a euphoric depiction of lesbian love. But Carol, for all of its fine acting and visual gloss, left me stone-cold. I was deeply moved by an earlier Todd Haynes film, Far from Heaven, that looked at similar social issues, once again in the context of the repressive 1950s. But even with Cate Blanchett and the piquant Rooney Mara in Carol‘s leading roles, I couldn’t warm to a tale about a wealthy, pampered woman who was being denied what she REALLY wanted for Christmas.

The end-of-year holidays are a terrific time for binge moviegoing, especially with family and friends. That’s how I happened, the night after seeing Star Wars, to go to my favorite multiplex to watch for the second time one of my favorite 2015 movies, Brooklyn. It is, of course, a romantic drama about Irish immigration to New York City, starring the young and talented Saoirse Ronan. To my delight, my husband found himself genuinely moved by this simply story, which sadly is often labeled a “woman’s picture.” And to my surprise, Brooklyn and The Force Awakens turn out to have a great deal in common. Don’t believe me? Read on . . .
 We all know, by now, that this is the diversity Star Wars, with leading heroic roles played by a black man (John Boyega as ex-storm trooper Finn), a Latino (Oscar Isaac doing an updated Han Solo), and a woman (Daisy Ridley as the tomboyish Rey). We also know that it’s the nostalgia Star Wars, one that honors its roots by finding key roles for Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher (now a general as well as a princess), and Mark Hamill.

I want to concentrate here on Rey. Is she so very different from Brooklyn’s Eilis Lacey? Both leave homes that lack what they need to travel to kingdoms far far away. Both are tempted -- more than once -- by attractive men of very unfamiliar backgrounds. Both must decide what they want out of life, and both films hinge on the choices these young women make. Both crave, and deserve, love, but it develops as they discover their own talents for leadership. Rey learns she’s being guided by the Force, and I’d like to think Eilis feels some of that too, even though her great skill lies not in combat so much as in double-entry bookkeeping.

In one area, they’re profoundly different. Eilis’s evolving wardrobe indicates her growing maturity and sophistication. Rey, though, wears the same practical grey outfit throughout. (She even wears it in a childhood flashback, presumably in a much smaller size.) Eilis also learns to apply makeup. Surprisingly, Rey wears eye makeup too. She may hail from a small desert planet, but a movie  heroine wouldn’t be caught dead without her mascara. 

A very happy, healthy, and peaceable New Year to all my readers.

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