We’re so conditioned to movies about immigration focusing on organized crime, forbidden romance, deportation, or some other conduit to melodrama that the pure, straightforward simplicity of Brooklyn is its greatest strength.
Set in 1952, it tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), an innocent girl raised in the Irish countryside whose sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) arranges for her to move to Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City. With the help of Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) in Brooklyn, Eilis has a place to live inside Mrs. Kehoe’s (Julie Walters) boarding house, a job at a department store, and later, Eilis takes college courses for bookkeeping.
This is what the American dream is supposed to be – come to the U.S., work hard, prosper. But director John Crowley (True Detective) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (About a Boy), working from the Colm Toibin novel of the same name, aren’t interested in pandering to Americana. Instead the focus is always on the ups and downs of Eilis’ life, and the movie thrives through Ronan’s fantastic performance.
When Eilis (pronounced Aye-lish) leaves Ireland she’s shy and naïve, unaware of how to dress for dances, wear lipstick, or even eat Italian food. Poor girl gets horribly seasick crossing the Atlantic, then horribly homesick while in Brooklyn.
But she’s lifted by the kindness of strangers, success at school, and most of all by her boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen) from an Italian family, a plumber and lovable, nice guy. Through these positives Eilis comes out of her shell and blossoms into a dynamic, happy young woman who is eager to take on the world.
Ronan’s body language, voice and overall demeanor as Eilis take us through this evolution, allowing us to feel her ups and downs right along with her. Ronan also has affable chemistry with Cohen.
Note the little smiles each gives when the other offers a compliment, or the comfort they show when gazing into one another’s eyes and falling in love without so much as kissing.
It’s sweet and genuine without being saccharine.
If the film falters at all, it’s in the third act. After a return trip to Ireland, Eilis becomes unsure of her future: What she should do seems obvious, and the alternative seems foolhardy, yet torn between two loves and two lives it remains a gut-wrenching decision.
Throughout, Ronan never falters while taking us through Eilis’ experiences; she deserves an Oscar nomination for her work.
At its core Brooklyn is an immigration movie about assimilation, which is something we can all relate to. Anyone who’s moved to a new city, started a new job and/or a new school understands the vacantness of not fitting in and slowly meeting people, making friends and settling down. Eilis may be a simple Irish girl in Brooklyn, but she’s also everyone. She doesn’t face discrimination, and she isn’t taken advantage of. The movie gives her a fair shake, and avoiding excessive drama – and therefore allowing her story to play out organically – keeps us firmly entrenched in her journey, and with Ronan’s phenomenal performance leading the way it all makes for a pretty tremendous movie.
Brooklyn has already garnered numerous awards including the People’s Choice Award at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. It is very likely that as award season approaches this film will receive more accolades it rightly deserves.
BROOKLYN (3 1/2) • Directed by John Crowley • Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson • Rated PG-13 •111 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte