Film Review: Brooklyn (dir by John Crowley)


Brooklyn_FilmPoster

OH MY GOD, HAVE YOU SEEN BROOKLYN YET!?

If I seem a little bit excited, that’s because I am.  I’ve been excited about seeing Brooklyn ever since it was first acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.  I was excited before I watched the film, I was excited while I watched it, and now I’m excited about the prospect of you seeing it.

The thing is, it’s a little bit hard to explain just what makes Brooklyn such a wonderful film.  I will admit that, in my case, it probably helps that it’s a deliriously romantic (yet realistic) portrait of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s.  Since I’m an incurable romantic of Irish descent, I suppose it was somewhat predestined that I would love Brooklyn.  But, ultimately, you don’t have to be Irish to love Brooklyn.  The story that Brooklyn tells is a universal one.

When we first meet Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), she is a quiet and meek girl living in a small Irish town.  She spends her weekends working in a shop owned by the spiteful Ms. Kelly (Brid Brennan) and looks up to her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott).  It is Rose who contacts Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) in Brooklyn and who arranges, with him, for Eilis to come to America.

After a nightmarish crossing that is marked by a Hellish case of seasickness, Eilis finds herself in Brooklyn and living in a boarding house, under the watchful and protective eye of Miss Kehoe (Julie Walters).  At first, Eilis is homesick and struggles to adjust to her new surroundings.  It’s only after Father Flood arranges for Eilis to take a night class in bookkeeping that Eilis starts to discover her confidence.  (Somewhat poignantly, Rose is also a bookkeeper.  Even separated by an ocean, Eilis is still trying to impress her big sister.)

Eventually, Eilis meets and starts to date a sweet-natured plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen).  Now, in the past, I’ve actually been pretty critical of Emory Cohen as an actor.  On twitter, I made some unkind comments about the performance that he gave in the TV series Smash.  (He played Debra Messing’s son.)  Though I didn’t make a point of mentioning it in my review, I also thought he was the weakest link in the otherwise excellent ensemble of The Place Beyond The Pines.  So, when I first heard that he gave an excellent performance in Brooklyn, I was a little bit skeptical.  But then I saw the movie and believe it or not, Emory Cohen gives an excellent performance.  As Tony, he is sweet and tough and funny and truly the ideal boyfriend.  He also flashes the sweetest smile imaginable, which is one thing that he was not allowed to do in either Smash or The Place Beyond The Pines.

Brooklyn handles Eilis and Tony’s relationship with a commendable honesty.  This is a wonderfully romantic movie but, at the same time, it retains a realistic edge.  As characters, Eilis and Tony are never idealized.  When Tony tells Eilis that he loves her, we’re just as torn as she is because we’ve gotten to know both of them.  We know that Tony is a good man but we also know and understand Eilis’s struggle to establish a life and an identity of her own in America.  We know how important her independence is to her and it’s equally important to us.

As a result of unforseen circumstances, Eilis eventually finds herself returning to Ireland.  Though Eilis insists that she’s only going to stay for a few months, she soon finds herself torn.  Should she return to her old home, where she is now viewed as being a bit of a glamorous celebrity and is romantically pursued by the handsome and charming Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson)?  Or should she go back to Brooklyn, to Tony and an unpredictable future?

Brooklyn is a deceptively low-key film.  Eilis changes from being a shy and insecure girl to being a strong and confident woman so gradually that both she and the viewer are initially taken by surprise when the new Eilis emerges from her shell.  This is a film that both demands and rewards your patience.  At the same time, it’s also a film about universal desires and experiences to which we can all relate.  At some point in our life and in some way, we have all been Eilis Lacey.

Saoirse Ronan — oh my God, what can I say about Saoirse Ronan?  How can I possibly describe what a wonderful performance she gives?  Ever since she first came to the public’s attention in Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has been one of the best and most underrated actresses around.  In Brooklyn, she gives her best performance yet.  She deserved an Oscar for Hanna and she’ll hopefully win one for Brooklyn.

(Incidentally, Brooklyn was written by Nick Hornby, who also wrote another one of my favorite films, An Education.  Hopefully, Brooklyn will do for Saoirse Ronan what An Education did for Carey Mulligan.)

See Brooklyn and see it soon!