“Brooklyn” Movie Review


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     Director John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” is a film of which it is nearly impossible to notice any flaws because its strengths consistently overshadow any hint of criticism.  That’s saying a lot, but the film is a master’s work in nearly every aspect of the movie making process and is a sure fire Oscar contender in this year’s top categories.  Adapted by Nick Hornby (“Wild”) from Colm Toibin’s novel, “Brooklyn” tells the story of a young female Irish immigrant in the mid 1950s who leaves her well established life in Ireland and sets sail to the United States to begin a new life in New York City.  Played by Saoirse Ronan (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Hanna”), Eilis is one of film’s very best characters.  She is an instantly likable person, gifted with a sweet innocence as well as a quiet confidence which grows right before our eyes as the story progresses.  She’ll remind you of a young Kate Winslet and the story’s similarities to “Titanic” will help make that thought even more clear as she comes of age in the most crucial scenes.  Ronan’s work here is by far the best female performance of the year.

     For a film that feels so rich in detail and populated by characters whose complexities are marvelously developed scene by scene, the story itself is rather simple.  Eilis’ older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has helped her arrange entrance into the United States by way of their connection to the church and an Irish priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), who now lives in New York as well.  Her life in Ireland seems as though she is being held back a bit, primarily by her mother, Mary (Jane Brennan), who would rather she stay to help take care of her and work at the local market.  Still, you get the idea Eilis wants to open up more and begin to show her potential in a different setting.  Sometimes when you stay with only what you know and fail to embrace change, the result can lead to a stagnant existence and little accomplishment.  Rose knows this, as she points out Eilis’ only work is a one day a week job and the seemingly life long commitment of living in a small town with little chance of realizing her potential.  And so, after several effective scenes that spell out the immense emotion involved with her departure, Eilis sets sail for New York.

     One of the ongoing strengths of “Brooklyn” is how it is literally bustling with compelling and well thought out characters, even if some of them are only granted a scene or two on screen.  Each of them has a significant impact on Eilis’ journey, both helping her along the way and giving key advice when she needs it most.  Upon arrival, she is assigned by Father Flood to a boarding house run by a lady named Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Waters).  All of the women who live there, aside from Mrs. Kehoe, appear to be about the same age as Eilis or just slightly older.  She’s very lucky from the onset, because each of these women seem genuine and actually want to help her succeed, even in the task of finding a boyfriend.  Each week, the group attends a church sponsored Irish dance in which they put on their best dress, style their hair, and apply just the right amount of make up in order to get noticed.  This being the 1950s, the young men at the dance are gentleman, politely asking the girls sitting and waiting on the perimeter of the room with a hint of trepidation in their own voices.

     Eilis is asked to dance by Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian boy who sees no issue with attending an Irish dance to meet a girl.  Tony is a blue collar worker from very traditional Italian family, but the two hit it off almost instantly.  Crowley’s direction here was extremely important as the chemistry between his two leads becomes the foundation of the entire story and is crucial in order to sell what happens in the third act.  Fortunately, Ronan and Cohen are up to task and create a believable relationship that starts with getting dinner and a movie and progresses to Tony asking Eilis if she was ready to meet his family.  A wonderful scene prior to the dinner has two of her boarding house roommates teaching her how to properly eat pasta since this will be her first time.  We’ve all been in this situation at some point in our lives.  The one in which you bring a significant other to meet your parents, hoping each of you can cut through the nervousness and anxiety enough that all goes well and the parents approve.  Tony’s family is hilarious and yet Eilis is breaking through any shell that held her back previously and becoming a woman who is supremely confident and highly capable of making the best of impressions.  Soon their relationship blossoms and there is talk of love and kids in the future, but then life has its way of allowing tragedy to strike at the worst of times.

     A death in the family forces Eilis to leave New York and go home in order to tend to her mother.  Of course, this isn’t a simple plane flight.  Ellis must sail home and is expected to spend weeks and perhaps months there.  There becomes a belief by Tony that she may never return and for good reason apparently.  When she arrives home, her mother expects her to stay for good and even goes as far as helping her get a bookkeeping job and setting her up with a presumed new boyfriend.  The man in question, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), is well off and is about to take over his parent’s sprawling estate when they move to a new location.  Now a woman who has experienced different facets of life in New York, Eilis is clearly conflicted by her new found ability to have a good life in Ireland versus returning to Tony who waits patiently for her in New York.  She has a big decision indeed.  

     All of this is handled by the filmmakers with an immense amount of style and artistry with beautiful cinematography and costumes full of vibrant color that truly exemplify the time period.  At its heart, “Brooklyn” is a simple story told with such genuine human emotion that you can’t help but be moved by nearly everything you see on screen.  It is also one of the best films of the year. GRADE: A