Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Brooklyn

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
John Crowley's "Brooklyn" is a lovely, old fashioned and bittersweet immigrant tale as well as one of the best films I've seen in a while. Based upon the 2009 novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, the film - which was scripted by Nick Hornby - tells the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irishwoman who moves to New York City in the early 1950s after she is unable to find work back home and, through a series of circumstances, finds herself torn between staying in her new home or returning back to the place where she was born and raised.

"Brooklyn" follows some of the elements you'd expect to find in an immigrant tale - the boat ride over, becoming accustomed to new surroundings, culture shock, etc., but thankfully little time is spent on getting through immigration and customs.

At first homesick and shy around her fellow Brooklynites, Eilis takes a job as a clerk at a retail store, where her boss (Jessica Pare, of "Mad Men") is, at first, hard on the new employee. Eilis lives in a boarding house under the watchful eye of a strict, but funny, landlady and several gossiping young Irishwomen, who eventually take to Eilis's good nature.

The priest (Jim Broadbent) who helped her find work in America suggests she take night classes and Eilis, a quick study, learns to become a bookkeeper with the intention of finding work as an accountant.

But the real heart of the story begins once she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a plumber and son of Italian immigrants who has a good heart, which he often wears on his sleeve. Things become serious and Eilis and Tony make a commitment to each other. But a tragedy back home in Ireland strikes, causing Eilis to return to her native land.

Once there, Eilis begins to feel guilty about leaving her mother on her own and settles back into life in Ireland, complete with a bookkeeping job at her sister's former place of work and a well-to-do suitor (Domhnall Gleeson). All the while, Eilis keeps Tony a secret and some obvious complications ensue.

So, while "Brooklyn" follows a story that rings a bell of familiarity, it's done so beautifully through its lovely writing, poignant acting and gorgeous cinematography. This is a winsome film in the best sense of the word.

Ronan, who has long been among the better actors of her generation, is phenomenal here, giving Eilis a heart and soul and making her a complicated person whom we root for, even when we question some of her decisions. She, like many of the other characters in the film, is the type not to suffer fools wisely, but she is also vulnerable and Ronan does such a marvelous job balancing these two parts to her character's personality. The supporting cast, especially Cohen, are also terrific.

The film's final scenes are of a bittersweet nature, but handled deftly. There's an early scene in which Eilis is traveling to New York and she is schooled by another young Irishwoman on the boat who already lives in the United States. The woman shows a tough exterior, but warms to Eilis's naivete and gives her some pointers. A sequence late in the film during which Eilis does the same for another is among the picture's most powerful and beautifully handled.

"Brooklyn" is one of the year's best. It's a simple story made with great care, from its filmmakers to its cast, and one you'll likely grow to care very much about.

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