Review by Briege McGarrity
Saoirse Ronan, in a career best, plays the role of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from County Wexford who decides to set sail for America in the early 1950s. Based on an award-winning novel by Colm Tóibín,“Brooklyn” is a compelling, bittersweet Coming-of- Age story of an immigrant as she navigates a whole new world.
Superbly and carefully directed by John Crowley from a classical and well-crafted script by Nick Hornby, the film opens in the small picturesque town of Enniscorthy (Tóibín’s birthplace). Eilis, a bright young woman, works in the local grocery store but has grown disillusioned with her seemingly stagnant life. With sponsorship help from Fr. Flood (Jim Broadbent), an excited yet terrified Eilis makes the long, lonely and uncomfortable crossing to Ellis Island. Sick as a dog, she makes it through immigration – the passport stamp and the words “Welcome to the United States mam” is her rite of passage – signaling a new beginning.
Eilis struggles to adjust to life in Brooklyn. The scenes of her weeping in her bedroom at the small boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (a brilliant Julie Walters) are heartfelt and real. It is apparent that Ronan, who has now transitioned into a woman, is at the top of her game. She easily captures the vulnerability and naiveté of an “off the boater” as well as the anguish of a young ex-Pat who has left the comforts of home, a loving mother and her supportive big sister. Indeed your writer heard plenty of sniffling as Eilis suffers through homesickness, a very different Christmas in an unfamiliar land, divided loyalties, torn feelings and identity issues. Many, including your writer, can identify with her situation. Fr. Flood can be heard saying, “Homesickness is like most sicknesses, it will pass.” Broadbent is much needed as the warm voice of reason and plays his part well.
Eilis finds work in an upscale department store, battles the rough winter, takes night classes in accounting and socializes at the weekends. In spite of a dance hall packed with Irish men, a handsome plumber called Tony of Italian descent catches her eye. While her leading man (played by Emory Cohen) is very sweet and good natured, he seems slightly miscast probably because of his boyishness. Thankfully, the couple have good on-screen chemistry, as they begin an innocent, slow burner of a courtship.
Eilis will have to work hard to win over his traditional Italian parents especially when Tony’s precocious little brother reveals a well-known fact, “we don’t like Irish people.” In another hilarious moment, her roommates show her how to eat spaghetti properly – Diana, her main teacher, pointedly advises, “I’m gonna say splash anytime I see problems.” In spite of their diverse upbringings, the couple move past their cultural barriers and slowly fall in love. It was surprising the script did not feature the linguistic differences and the confusion it can create. Other than the adjective “fierce cold,” Hornby kept the script free of Irish wit and colorful vernacular, most likely because of the era or to avoid possible clichés. In your writer’s case “Anybody got any “craic” for me” uttered by the coffee station of a Monday morning has raised plenty of eyebrows! Now there’s a script idea…
Just as Eilis grows to like her adopted home, Fr. Flood arrives at Bartocci’s and takes of his hat – the harbinger of doom. We learn that her darling sister Rose has died suddenly. Before returning to her homeland for an extended visit, Eilis and a scared Tony secretly get married at City Hall. Then the film quickly shifts and becomes more dramatic and suspenseful. Eilis once again can be seen trying to adjust to life back home even socializing with eligible bachelor Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Audiences are wondering which man and which country will eventually win her heart. Eilis’s inner conflicts, the gnawing sense of betrayal, and along with it, the reality that her life is now in America, helps her to purposefully book a ticket.
The film’s casting by Fiona Weir is excellent. Ronan with her piercing, old soul blue eyes delivers a perfect performance from start to finish. It is obvious she is acutely sensitive and sympathetic to immigrant woes and is mature beyond her years. Supporting actors with small or big roles all turned out solid performances, most notably Julie Walters (“Educating Rita”) as a waspy yet funny landlady with a soft spot for Irish girls, Eve Macklin is great as Diana the supportive and edgy roommate. Brid Brennan is spot on as Miss Kelly, Eilis’s snobby and manipulative boss in Enniscorthy, and up-and-coming Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson is charming and believable as the potential suitor for Eilis.
“Brooklyn” looks beautiful with many scenes shot in Ireland and Canada. This multi-layered film has depth: it’s a period piece (kudos to Odil Dicks-Mireaux), a love story, and a coming-of age immigrant tale that is sure to appeal to all generations. As far as awards, the picky Ms. Ronan’s preference for spunky female roles may well land her at the podium once or twice to be sure!