Directed by John Crowley
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent.
Adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows a young girl’s journey in the 1950s from the shores of Ireland to her new life in the city of New York.
Unable to find steady work in her hometown, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is forced to seek opportunity overseas in America. Through the help of the catholic church she is able to gain employment in Brooklyn and begins a new life there. Although at first isolated and homesick, she finds support from her landlady (Julie Walters) and her priest (Jim Broadbent). As she grows into a new found confidence she attracts the eye of a young Italian-American boy, Tony (Emory Cohen), and the two become romantically involved. However fate may have other plans for Eilis, as a family tragedy forces her back to Ireland and she must decide where she truly calls home.
The first twenty or so minutes of Brooklyn lays on the old Celtic charm with a trowel. It is embarrassingly cliched in its portrayal of Ireland, and robs the movie of life straight from the get go. However once the leprechauns have waved goodbye from the docks, the movie starts to breathe and have its own life. Initially this comes in the form of Eilis’ shipboard room mate (Eva Birthistle), but as she steps on the shores of the US everything eventually springs to life. Probably the best example for this is the wonderful dinner table discussions she finds herself at her lodgings. Sharing with other women, we get a good insight into the initial reluctance of Eilis to engage in her new found home, but as the scenes are oft repeated throughout the film it acts as a measure to chart her growing confidence and integration. An added bonus to this is that these sessions are chaired by the landlady, Mrs Keogh (the excellent Julie Walters), and have a great sense of comic timing about them.
Once the romantic tale begins, then we are certainly on safe ground. There is a good chemistry between Ronan and Cohen, and the mix of cultures plays off very well against each other. Beneath Eilis’ apparent shyness there is a very assured sense of self, which compliments Tony’s gentle bravado. It is sweet. Really, there is no other way to describe it, but it is one of those slowly developed romantic notes that reminds you of classic Hollywood cinema, and it certainly works.
Of course nothing comes without conflict, and this comes in the form of a family tragedy that sends Eilis back to her Homeland. Eilis discovers things have changed for her, and her new found confidence and skills have altered the town’s evaluation of her. Tempted by the charms of home, now with the possibility of a future, Eilis must decide the shape she wants her life to be. Here again Brooklyn falters. Although it is interesting to see that quandary played out, the love of hometown versus the life made, it feels as if the final decision is unearned and forced by external factors.
Brooklyn is a classic immigrant’s tale, although one a little worn at the edges by it’s heavy handed treatment of the Irish diaspora. It is saved by a sterling performance by Ronan, and some great character actors in minor roles (Walters and Broadbent). It is likeable enough, in an old fashioned sentimental sort of way, but it seems a little slight given the Oscar buzz about it (nominated for Best Motion Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay – only one of those feels deserved). Worth a look, flawed as it is, it’s a film not without its charm.