Movie Review: Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in "Brooklyn" Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in “Brooklyn” Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Could Brooklyn be considered a forebear to screenwriter Nick Hornby’s earlier film, An Education?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Brooklyn‘s Eilis (“eye-lish”), played by Saoirse Ronan, undertakes an arduous sea voyage from her Irish homeland to America. But it’s the voyage from girlhood to maturity that poses the greater challenge.

In a tidy parallel construct, Ms. Ronan mirrors that physical and emotional journey herself. She’s bloomed from a child to a luminous young woman right before our eyes — or, rather, the camera’s eye. After initially catching fire as the gawky 13-year-old Briony in 2008’s Atonement (earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination), she subsequently offered up superb work in such projects as The Lovely Bones and Hanna. Now, with this star-turning performance, the adult Ronan is akin to Venus Rising.

Brooklyn presents its eponymous borough, circa 1950. Though the streets are no longer mythologically paved with gold, America is still thought of as the promised land. Eilis’ sister Rose (an affecting Fiona Glascott), hoping for a better life for her younger sister, saves up enough money to send Eilis off to New York. Brooklyn presents the immigrant experience firsthand: the heartache as the voyagers bid farewell to their loved ones, knowing that in all probability they will never see them again; the brutal trip across choppy seas; and, upon landing at Ellis Island, the fear that they will be turned away. As shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger, once Eilis is waved on through, the doorway to her new homeland is surrounding by a glowing blue light. Affirming the idea that to immigrants, America is heaven indeed.

A kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) acts as Eilis’ sponsor, arranging both employment and living quarters at a boarding house for Irish young ladies. She has a much easier start to her new life than others … yet the wide-eyed, retiring Eilis finds it impossibly hard to adapt.

Written by Nick Hornby (Wild, An Education, the novels About a Boy and High Fidelity), the Brooklyn screenplay stands as a first-rate example for budding screenwriters who’ve yet to master the delicate concept of economic dialogue. It’s not that these characters lack expression. Rather, their communication is often more visual than verbal.

Such as in the case of the magnificent Ms. Ronan. Owning the camera, she delivers a subtle yet magnificent performance, her emotions barely perceptible. Yet we still can see them, feel them, understand them. And when she attracts not one but two suitors, it dawns on Eilis that maybe her self-ascribed ugly ducking has flown away, leaving a swan in its stead. Her realization is a wonder to behold.

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, Emory Cohen as Tony. Photo by Kerry Brown, © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, Emory Cohen as Tony. Photo by Kerry Brown, © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The story offers an unusual concept, in that both avid young men are equally worthy. First, Eilis is wooed by the funny, sexy, outwardly assured Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen, in a memorable performance). Their first encounter could very well be an homage to West Side Story, with the boy and the girl from different backgrounds meeting at a dance. The rest of the world fades away as they take center focus, inexorably drawn to each other. Heck, even his name is Tony.

Complicating matters, along comes the measured, gentlemanly Jim (an engaging Domhnall Gleeson), who is more than just the boy back home … he’s the very embodiment of all that stirs her steadfast Irish heart.

Julie Walters, center; Saoirse Ronan, right foreground. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Julie Walters, center; Saoirse Ronan, middle right. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The supporting characters are a marvelous lot. The nasty shopkeeper with the acid tongue, Jim Broadbent’s sagacious priest, Eilis’ lachrymose mama, the nattering boarding house girls, and their pseudo-strict landlady (played with delicious brio by Julie Walters). The cast buttresses the story in a variety of ways, contributing elements of humor, melancholy, encouragement, romance, et al.

Cinematographer Bélanger’s every shot is arresting. Such as in the scene when an early morning throng of expatriates marches toward their day’s work, the camera incorporating a towering Brooklyn Bridge in the background. It’s as if the bridge is standing in a silent salute, acknowledging the immigrant nation that sacrificed life and limb to build it.

As lovely as this film is, the pace might have benefited from an earlier introduction of the main conflict. Just as we begin to think that Brooklyn may be a character study, the third act finally delivers the long-awaited obstacle. Like a laboriously slow ship traveling from Cobh, Ireland to the New York harbor … thankfully, it ultimately pulls into port.

Brooklyn presents us with a young woman who is torn between the provincial and the modern. But in actuality, whether her life is decided for her in Enniscorthy, Ireland, with Jim who’s a vital member of that insular community, or in Brooklyn, with Tony who’s inextricably attached to his close-knit family, Eilis’ decision may not make that much of a difference. Today, 65 years later, a substantial number of women can choose autonomy. But in 1950, no matter where a woman came ashore … she generally wasn’t allowed to stand alone.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Irish flings: 4

Release date: (ltd) November 4, 2015; (wider release) November 20, 2015
Directed by: John Crowley
Screenplay by: Nick Hornby
Based on the novel by: Colm Toibin
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Running Time: 111 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Here’s the trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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