Friday, November 6, 2015

Brooklyn, Tab Hunter Confidential

Tab Hunter Confidential

A pair of mild recommendations to open the weekend:

In 1950, a colleen named Eilis ("ay-lish") Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) emigrates from Enniscorthy in southeastern Ireland by boat to Brooklyn, where a beneficent priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) has arranged a job for her as a sales clerk at an upscale department store. Eilis lives in a boarding house for Irish girls run by the tut-tutting Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). She attends bookkeeping classes three nights a week and spends every Saturday evening at a forlorn dance hall for Irish immigrants, where there are too many shy girls like her and too few fellas to go around. One week, an Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen), musters the courage to ask her to dance ("I just like Irish girls"). Slowly but purposefully, they fall in love, and secretly marry the day before she returns to Ireland to bury a loved one. Thus pass the first (and loveliest) two-thirds of John Crowley's "Brooklyn," from an adapted screenplay by Nick Hornby. 

There are to these eighty minutes an old-fashioned simplicity, an economy of storytelling grounded in honesty. (Crowley does not, for example, shy away from portraying the corporeal effects of midcentury sea travel.) in There is also a good deal of humor, much of it from Walters, who reacts to the girls' laughter at the dinner table by noting, "I think I'll have Father Flood give a sermon on the evils of giddiness" - a remark that reveals as much about her standing as her piety. The last third of "Brooklyn" - involving Eilis' friendship, back in Ireland, with Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the sweet-natured scion of a wealthy local family, and others' attempts to forge a romantic bond between them - feels overlong and underfed by comparison. There's no contest between the milquetoast Jim and the endearingly vulnerable Tony - or, for that matter, between the wan Gleeson and the enormously appealing Cohen. I'll remember the movie mostly for Ronan, the young actress who gave such a fierce performance as the titular trained killer in Joe Wright's thrilling 2011 "Hanna," and who here becomes a woman before our eyes, holding the screen effortlessly through a vast array of close-ups.

Jeffrey Schwarz' documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential" just closed a weeklong run at the Nuart, but should be available soon on other platforms. It's a breezy and unduly well researched look at Hunter, the '50s golden boy whose homosexuality, an open secret in Hollywood, Jack Warner meticulously whitewashed, keeping Tab and a string of female "love interests" on the covers of all the movie magazines. The movie's full of surprises. For example, it wasn't being gay that knocked Hunter off the map; it was his mistaking in buying out his seven-year studio contract and ending up relegated to embarrassing B-movies. (He also co-starred with Divine in "Polyester.") He dated Tony Perkins and the figure skater Ronnie Robertson, and has carved out a happy and tranquil life on a horse farm with his partner of thirty years, the producer Allan Glaser. I was highly impressed by Schwarz' leg work; virtually every anecdote is accompanied by relevant photographs or footage and by interviews with the key players. It's like a good "E! True Hollywood Story."

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