2015, PG-13, 111 mins.
2015, PG-13, 111 mins.
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey / Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell / Emory Cohen as Tony / Emily Bett Rickards as Patty McGuire / Nora-Jane Noone as Sheila / Michael Zegen as Maurizio Fiorello / Paulino Nunes as Mr. Fiorello / Jenn Murray as Dolores Grace / Eve Macklin as Diana Montini / Jessica Paré as Miss Fortini / Eve Macklin as Diana / Maeve McGrath as Mary / Aine Ni Mhuiri as Mrs. Byrne / Jim Broadbent as Father Flood
Directed by John Crowley / Written by Nick Hornby, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín
BROOKLYN is one of those exceptionally rare period dramas that’s low key, understated, and serenely heartrending. It’s an intimately and deeply felt chronicle of a young Irish women bravely thrusting herself into the unknown by moving away from her homeland and trying to make a new life for herself in America.
only is BROOKLYN a completely authentic exploration of the trails and
tribulations of the immigrant experience in mid-20th Century
America, but it’s also a sweet and tender coming of age story about a
young person trying to understand and discover herself in largely foreign
territory. The film becomes
sublimely involving and moving as a result, told with great warmth, humor,
and strong performances. It
has been described as “old fashioned”, but that’s more of a
compliment towards it than a simplistic and ignorant criticism.
evocative, yet simple strokes by John Crowley (INTERMISSION) and written
by Nick Hornby (HIGH FIDELITY AND WILD) –
based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel – BROOKLYN begins in 1952 as we are
introduced to Eilis Lacey (a never been better Saoirse Ronan), a young
woman from Enniscorthy, a small town in southwest Ireland. She works a rather depressing job at a local shop run by a
fairly spiteful boss, which makes her yearn for something more
consequential in her life. Thankfully
for Eilis, her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and a kindly
Irish-American priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) have secured her a job
and place of residence in Brooklyn. Excited,
yet hopelessly frightened, Eilis leaves behind her sister and mother and
takes the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, battling
homesickness and seasickness in equal measure.
American opens up a floodgate of newfound possibilities and opportunities
for Eilis, which leaves her all the more enthusiastic to explore her new
world despite the grief she feels for leaving her family behind.
She acclimatizes herself fairly well to her new lodgings and begins
a new job at a local department store, but any painful memories of home
become distant memories when she meets a young and kind Italian man named
Tony (THE PLACE BEYOND THE
PINES’ extraordinary Emory Cohen), who makes it his own personal
mission to secure a date with Eilis and – gasp! – tries to invite her
over to dinner to meet his whole family, some of which don’t take kindly
to Irish immigrants. A loving
bond and relationship begins to flourish for the young lovers, but just
when it appears that they are about to take it to the next level, sad
events back home rear their ugly heads and force Eilis back to Ireland.
One thing that
BROOKLYN does with uncommon conviction is the way it explores the
whirlwind of emotions that one goes through when leaving a previous life
behind in search of a new one. The
film touchingly and tactfully explores Eilis – emotionally and physically
– as she journeys away from Ireland and towards the unknown in America.
The film is somewhat steeped in small scale personal tragedy, in
some respects, but it ultimately becomes rather joyously uplifting and
inspirational to bare witness to Eilis doing what she can – however she
can – to make Brooklyn a new home away from home.
Loving and appreciating the past – as well as courageously having
the inner fortitude and resolve to let go of it to start anew – becomes
a powerful rallying theme of BROOKLYN. What Eilis commits herself to
is brave, considering the context of her times.
Beyond just trying to adapt to Brooklyn life is one thing, but the
sheer enormity of Eilis' actual journey across the ocean is no simple feat,
especially in an age when affordable and available cross country airline
flights were but a pipedream.
just might be one of the more headstrong young actresses working today.
She never overplays her role to melodramatic obviousness, but
rather soulfully and sensitively captures Eilis’ fractured mindset, her
unease, and her overall confusion in the uncertain world she now occupies. The whole arc of her character has a palpable dignity: She goes
from being a nearly homeless girl without a financial livelihood in America (when she
steps off of that boat and proceeds through immigration, she’s
essentially alone) and transforms – through focused perseverance –
into a confident and determined woman that will stop at nothing to see her
American dreams become a reality. Ronan
is pitch perfectly cast as this character, and we seen her performance
navigate through all of its inherent challenges alongside the roadblocks
in place for the character she plays.
She is the emotional anchor that holds everything together in
chemistry with co-star Emory Cohen is unforced and natural,
which allows the central romance and love story contained within BROOKLYN
to ring truly. Tony is also a
compelling character because he too, like Eilis, has a kind and big heart
and large aspirations to achieve his occupational and relationship dreams.
There are moments of great humor sprinkled throughout the film,
especially in scenes involving their initial courtship and later ones when
Tony tries to introduce Eilis to his family at the dinner table, during
which time his younger brother shares an opinion of the Irish that’s
perhaps too awkward for a first meal together.
Hornby paints domestic scenes like these ones – that could have
been overbearingly played for cheap laughs and payoffs – with a real
sensitivity while respecting the mindsets of his characters.
Even though some in Tony’s family display bigoted attitudes
towards other cultures, they are good and honorable people willing to
change. It’s simply
refreshing to see a romance in a film that never devolves into overused
young adult fiction clichés, manufactured sentiment, and false payoffs.
The one misstep,
though, that I think BROOKLYN makes is when it chronicles Eilis’ return
back to Ireland, after which time she’s introduced to a potential new
suitor (played finely by Domhnall Gleeson) that’s not quite given the
level of screenplay development that it should have received.
Ultimately, the personal complications that Eilis experiences back
home – filled with newfound family and work obligations and another new
romance – seems a bit too contrived, especially considering the how
finely tuned the story was building up to this point.
It’s odd, mostly because the film’s third act serves the
importance of Eilis’ spiritual journey of self-actualization, but it
never fully simmers with the same level of dramatic veracity or urgency of
the early stages of the film. Ronan
nevertheless remains such a deeply distinguished presence in the film,
which helps some of the film’s more soap opera inspired plot
developments go down easier.
nitpicking, because BROOKLYN is a truly lovely drama, anchored by an
astonishing sense of time and place (the film’s production design is
immersive, but subtly realized without drawing too much attention to
itself), not to mention the inherent strengths of its remarkably able
bodied cast. The film has a
multifaceted richness that seems lost on many period dramas these days; it
tugs at the heartstrings without methodically beating us over the head
with broad and saccharine strokes. As
both a thoroughly enthralling exploration of immigrant life and a sweet
tempered tale of multicultural romance, BROOKLYN feels truthful to its
core. Even though I’m a man
and have no tangible frame of reference to relate to its female
protagonist, the film spoke to me on relatable levels.
That’s a testament to the quiet power of BROOKLYN.