Tweetable Takeaway: Brooklyn is one of the best of the year with its deceptively simple story of choosing between new homes and old. Tweet
In an age of lightning-fast email communication, video-calling, and international flights, it’s hard to imagine a world in which people traveling to a country across the ocean meant getting on a boat for several weeks, and waiting just as long for hand-written letters to hear from your family. And that’s the world into which viewers are dropped with BROOKLYN. In a deceptively simple story, we follow Eilis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan, as she leaves her family in Ireland to immigrate to Brooklyn and attempts to create a new life for herself. Beautifully shot, acted, and written, Brooklyn is a finely tuned film that will sweep viewers up in its romance, its homesickness, and the central dilemma of Eilis.
We begin in a small town in Ireland. Eilis works in a general store for a woman who easily could be the offspring of Nurse Ratched and Ebenezer Scrooge (pre-ghost Scrooge, that is). Seeing Eilis interact with this woman, it’s not difficult to see why she wants to leave. Seeing her with her family, however, is different. The decision to head to America for a new and exciting life isn’t quite so easy, but Eilis gets on the boat anyway. It’s here the film plays to its strengths by focusing on the minutiae of its story. What exactly was life like on a boat full of immigrants headed to America in 1950? Shared bathrooms and feuding cabin neighbors are part of the deal, and for a girl who’s never left home, the strangeness of it all is heightened. Which makes the entrance of a seasoned traveler all the more welcome, to both the relief of Eilis and the audience. Indeed, for Eilis, much of the ease of her transition will be marked by those willing to help her along, to reassure her or introduce her to places that will remind her of home. Soirse’s performance throughout is pitch-perfect, imbuing Eilis with a timidity throughout but a brave face when she needs to put one on. When Eilis finally receives her first letter from home and bursts out in tears, clutching the letter tight to her chest, the longing and pain from being away from home veritably pours out of the screen.
Soon Eilis meets an Italian-American boy Tony (played by Emory Cohen). To win his family’s approval, Eilis begins to train in the ways of the Italians, how to eat pasta, among other activities. As soon as their relationship starts to take off, Eilis is called back home, and must make the long voyage back to Ireland. Once there, little by little, Eilis finds life isn’t that bad. After all, her family is there, all her old friends, and of course, hunky Domhnall Gleeson! For all the big-budget superhero movies with high stakes involving the fate of humanity that dominate the movies these days, it’s a testament to the power of Brooklyn that Eilis’s decision to either stay in Ireland or return to America is the most nail-biting one in years. And truly, the film creeps up on you so softly, so wonderfully, that you never even see it coming. Other films set-up their own high stakes decisions with much more aplomb, but here, it’s nothing any more complicated than deciding between two homes. The home Eilis has grown up in, and the home she has made for herself in Brooklyn. Neither is an easy choice for either Eilis, or the viewers, and if anyone watching isn’t on the edge of their seat waiting to see what Eilis chooses, he or she is a braver moviegoer than me.
There’s much to love onscreen in Brooklyn. The wardrobing and cinematography are beautiful, plenty of stills through the film lend themselves to standing on their own as framed art. It’s the story, however, and the character’s journey that make the movie, and both of these are a joy to watch. The plot may be as simple as a journey to create a new home, and then deciding between two homes, but you won’t find a more effective one all year.
I give Brooklyn 4.5 out of 5
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor