Nick Hornby (Novel by Colm Tóibín)
Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleason, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Maeve McGrath, Eileen O’Higgins, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone, Samantha Munro, Jessica Paré
PG – 13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
The Irish immigrant experience of the 1950s is on keen display in Brooklyn, a film of exquisite subtlety and potent performances.
Director John Crowley’s beautiful film paints a gorgeous portrait of a young Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) as she struggles to find her place in Brooklyn, New York far from the only home and family she’s ever known. It isn’t until she meets and falls in love with an awkward and exuberant young Italian boy (Emory Cohen) that she begins to grow and ease into her new life of passion and independence.
Many directors have found inspiration in stories of Irish immigrants in America with numerous success along the way, Crowley may come the closest yet to evoking the spirit of discovery and trepidation those newcomers faced with Brooklyn. It looks longingly at tradition, fear, determination, and the struggle to balance independence with homesickness. Crowley explores the need to establish one’s own identity when the world around you insists on painting you into narrow boxes.
This is where Ronan’s astonishing quietness and subtle performance comes in. She has effortlessly conveyed Eilis’ fears, sorrows, and excitement. Her gentle facial expressions and eventual demeanor changes suggest a woman growing older and wiser without growing duller. Her lustrous portrayal is a study in grace and charm, elegant without fault. Her breakthrough performance in Joe Wright’s Atonement was just a taste of the talent Ronan has exhibited in her short career.
In a position similar to that of Ronan when she first started, Cohen displays the type of creative energy and relatability that have launched many careers in Hollywood. His character is energetic, exciting, and charismatic, conveying the simple joys of young love while refusing to cage or control the woman with whom he is smitten. His ebullient, almost excessive cheerfulness is infectious, giving the audience an easy road to loving him the way that Eilis does. He is a compelling presence, surpassed only by Ronan’s elegance. Cohen should consider following Ronan’s lead and focusing on small, artistic projects that challenge his ability and not shift immediately to commercial excess.
Crowley’s cinematographer Yves Bélanger may not uncover vast, gorgeous Irish landscapes, but he understands how to frame the two continents effectively. While in Ireland, the land is filmed in bold, quaint tones, suggesting a land of longstanding beauty and tradition. When we move to New York with Eilis, the photography shifts into glossy, more rose-colored style. This is a new world of vibrant possibility. As the film progresses, the tones shift, conveying a change in mindset for our character. It’s a simple, elegant piece that is ultimately more subtle than simple.
Bringing all of the elements together, Crowley does a wonderful job pulling the audience into his uncomplicated world, a place where fear of the unknown can lead to great discovery and even love. Allowing the past to influence and guide you is important, but permitting the strictures and constraints of your old life to control and manipulate your success and happiness is self-destructive. Eilis must learn this first hand and through her experiences, however long ago they were, enables the viewer to understand and perhaps grow as a result of them.
Brooklyn is the kind of quaint film that audiences need more of in their lives. It’s a sweet, uncomplicated saga of a young woman identifying herself and breaking away from that which holds her back while finding that which makes her whole and going for it, society be damned.
October 3, 2016