To those of us living in North America, the immigrant story is an integral part of our history. America is a nation of immigrants, a tapestry of histories and voyages to settle a new place called “home”. Everyone has a story. Everyone comes from somewhere.
The immigrant story is one that has been lived and told countless times over, but, in Brooklyn, a skilled director, enchanting story and excellent cast tell the story in a new and profoundly moving way.
Based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn revolves around a young Irish lass named Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who in the 1950’s makes the voyage across the ocean to Brooklyn, where she falls into a whirlwind romance with Tony (Emory Cohen). When tragedy calls her home, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
The film is about the time in most of our lives when we have to figure ourselves out and strike out on our own. Brooklyn captures that bittersweet mix of excitement and longing through fantastic performances from a wonderful cast.
Saoirse Ronan is one of the most talented young actresses working today. I’m constantly amazed by her performances, and Brooklyn holds no exception. Eilis blossoms from a mousy and homesick girl to a confident and self-assured woman. Eilis is the heart of this film, and Ronan creates genuine empathy for her character with a quiet intensity that never feels overwrought or put on. She’s playing a complex person in a state of transition – maturing from fresh-off-the-boat naiveté to first-love blossoming and, ultimately, to calculating grown woman forced to decide what’s in her best interests. Ronan is a joy to watch, and the film would be nowhere near as impactful as it is without her.
Domhnall Gleeson is excellent in his portrayal of Jim Farrell, a young man living in Eilis’ Ireland hometown – a true gentleman who unknowingly challenges Tony for Eilis’ affections. Julie Walters is also a delight, playing the nagging boarding house proprietor Mrs. Kehoe.
Emory Cohen, as Tony, will be sure to capture the heart of everyone who sees the film – to quote some ladies leaving the theatre, “They just don’t make them like that anymore”. Tony and Eilis’s hopeful romance is sweet and tentative. It changes them both for the better. The character is played with a traditional Italian bravado that, despite a sometimes shaky accent, refuses to delve into the stereotypical. Tony is incredibly charming and kind and his chemistry with Eilis is truly spectacular.
Kudos to casting director Fiona Weir, who perfectly cast memorable characters who come and go in Eislis’ life, including are the confident Georgina (Eva Birthistle) who helps Eilis out on her rocky first voyage, all of the girls at the boarding house, Eilis’s intimidating department store boss (Mad Men’s Jessica Paré), Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who helps Eilis settle in America, the old Irish crones who try to manipulate Eilis once she’s back, and a slew of unnamed characters.
I loved this film. It is beyond gorgeous. The production design is striking and Yves Bélanger’s colorful camera work is stunning – imparting a drab and almost grey tinge to Eilis’ life in Ireland and a riot of color as she thrives in Brooklyn. Brooklyn has the look and feel of a rose-tinted and well-worn photograph and carries with it a sense of nostalgia that doesn’t challenge the narrative of the film. It plays as a lush period piece with costuming that is absolutely divine. [Nearly every piece of clothing in the film is original vintage from the era. Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux and her team sourced vintage sellers and costume rental houses near filming locations in Montreal and Ireland, plus Los Angeles to outfit a vibrant Coney Island beach day.]
There are some small pacing issues in film’s latter half, but that’s just nitpicking. A film like Brooklyn hearkens to a different kind of filmmaking – of an era from the past – a gorgeous and intimate romance on a grand ocean-crossing scale. Nick Hornby’s beautifully adapted script and combined with John Crowley’s patient and assured direction make Eilis’ experience our experience.
Brooklyn is an absolute gem of a film and will be one of the best films you see this year – full of hope, love, sorrow and laughter. It’s a lovingly crafted and thoughtfully directed story about the meaning of home.