Brooklyn is a delightful film that had me crying pretty much all throughout. It’s heartfelt, it’s poignant, it’s sentimental (in the best possible way), and it features a performance of exquisite care and radiance by Saoirse Ronan, who in film after film has impressed, but here, genuinely dazzles. And completely steals your heart. And did I mention make you cry? From the very first scene, I was wrapped up in this honest, believable, thoroughly universal tale of home, family, love, and unknown opportunities. Yes, the filmmakers have told a romanticized version of the Irish/Italian immigrant experience in NYC circa 1950, but there’s a certain clarity to the message, and a touching sense of nobility to the narrative that reinforces the themes at every turn. Directed with grace and class by John Crowley (Boy A and Intermission, two very gritty and underrated films) and sensitively written by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) who adapted Colm Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn centers on Eilis (Ronan), who leaves her mother and sister back in Cavan for a new start in New York. She has a leg up, as a kindly priest (the magnificent scene stealer Jim Broadbent) has helped to arrange a room at a boarding house and a department store job, but her life changes when she meets the potential love of her life, a young Italian named Tony, whose parents had come to the states in search of a better life for their family. There’s an excellent scene at the dinner table where you get to meet Tony’s family, and rather than becoming a cheap stereotype, the moment feels beautifully played by all parties. Brooklyn is a movie about the importance and longing for family, how it defines many of us, and how it can shape us in ways we can’t predict. The movie was captured in creamy, sometimes gauzy tones by cinematographer Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, Laurence Anyways), while the elegant score by Michael Brook (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fighter) never ladles the schmaltz on too thick.
Throw in some drama back at home or Eilis, a budding romance, and the blossoming of her own sense of purpose and individualism, and you’re left with a warm and engaging film that hits all the proper notes you’d expect. Crowley knows exactly how long to hold on Ronan’s face in key moments, wisely holding on his actress’s expressive and pretty face, but also finding the uniqueness in her as a person that helps to separate her from her contemporaries. After some startlingly excellent work in diverse films like Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones, How I Live Now, and The Way Back, this is a further reminder of her skills as a young actress, and offers a fantastic pairing of actress with material. Emory Cohen shines as Tony, the young Italian plumber from a big family who falls in love with Eilis, giving off irrepressible humor and spirit as a man who feels as if life is an endless stream of possibility, especially when he’s living it with the woman that he loves. After being featured in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, his performance here is even more relaxed and sturdy, and you really root for the character. Domnhall Gleeson adds another feather in his cap from 2015 after his superb work in Ex-Machina and The Revenant with a stop for some ruffled-nose-fun in The Force Awakens, getting another juicy supporting role, and never allowing his character to become the cliché that it so could have been. And that’s the thing about the story to Brooklyn – it never gets too complicated or unnecessarily stuffed – this is Eilis’ story and the Ronan show all the way, with the filmmakers wisely zeroing in on the character and letting it take center stage. Ronan totally deserved her recent Best Actress nomination, as it’s a performance that signals a major step up for her as an artist. And it’s a large step up for Crowley, who on a $10 million budget made a film that feels at least twice as expansive, with a smart sense of pacing and tone; I’m anxious to see what’s next up for him as a director.
Written by Nick Clement