Directed by: John Crowley.
Written by: Nick Hornby based on the novel by Colm Tóibín.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Eilis), Emory Cohen (Tony), Domhnall Gleeson (Jim Farrell), Jim Broadbent (Father Flood), Jane Brennan (Mary Lacey), Julie Walters (Mrs. Kehoe), Fiona Glascott (Rose), Brid Brennan (Miss Kelly), Eileen O'Higgins (Nancy), Peter Campion (George Sheridan), Emily Bett Rickards (Patty), Eve Macklin (Diana), Nora-Jane Noone (Sheila), Samantha Munro (Dorothy), Jessica Paré (Miss Fortini), Jenn Murray (Dolores), James DiGiacomo (Frankie Fiorello).
Brooklyn is one of the most delicate, subtle, beautiful and best films of the year. It tells a story that some people would consider small – focusing on one Irish girl immigrating to America in the 1950s – but does so with depth of feeling and specificity. It is a film that about the choices we all make – how even when the world gives us something great, it takes something away as well. Brooklyn is one of those rare films that can make you cry from happiness and sadness in the same moment.
Saoirse Ronan delivers one of the best performances of the year as Eilis, a smart, capable young Irish lass – who has no job prospects in her small town, outside of working at the general store a few hours on Sunday. Her bookkeeper sister wrote a Priest she knows in America, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who agrees to sponsor Eilis to move to Brooklyn – getting a job at a fancy department store, leaving in a boarding house with other, young women, presided over by a wonderfully comic Julie Walters, start taking courses at the local school – in the hopes of one day being an accountant (did I, an accountant, love this movie because it may be the first time cinema history that an accountant is not portrayed as a pathetic loser? Maybe). In Brooklyn, she meets Tony (Emory Cohen – channeling a kinder, gentler version a young Marlon Brando) – an Italian plumber, and falls in love. Then, a family tragedy strikes, and she heads back to Ireland for what is supposed to be a short while – and meets Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson – for once not playing a nerd), and there is more confusion.
What makes Ronan’s performance so amazing is the subtlety in which she does pretty much everything – how she appears on the verge of tears at times in those early months in America, but doesn’t want anyone to see that. Those first, tentative flirtations with Tony, and how simultaneously terrified and happy she is when he tells her he loves her. Little-by-little, she grows more confident while living in Brooklyn – and she’s taking steps towards happiness, and away from the sadness of leaving Ireland. And then, amazingly, the performance shifts when she returns to Ireland. She always felt out of place in Brooklyn, being Irish, and now she out of place in Ireland, being a Brooklyn girl. She also, quite clearly, sees how her entire small town – especially her mother – is almost pushing her and Jim together. It’s not altogether unfair to say that Eilis remakes herself into the image that the town wants to her to be, a kind of self-imposed version of what Kim Novak did late in Vertigo for Jimmy Stewart. For a while, I think, she even starts to believe that version of herself – but a late conflict with an old rival snaps her out of it. This is immediately followed by a quietly devastating scene with her mother that should be enough to emotionally crush any viewer.
The film’s screenplay is the best work (for the screen anyway) done yet by Nick Hornby, adapting the novel by Colm Tóibín, that resists the urge to underline every passage, or vocalize too much. He has written a screenplay in which only one character is what you would call bad – and not really, just nosy – and she’s barely in the book. Every character in the film makes decisions that make sense, that are not driven selfishness or anything else – but some of them are still going to be crushed, because that’s the way life is. The film was directed by John Crowley – clearly doing the best work of his career (although when you directed a couple of episodes of the awful True Detective Season 2 that may not being saying much). He, wisely, chooses to make Brooklyn in a dreamily romantic film. It’s easy to make Ireland look beautiful – especially small town, ocean adjacent Ireland – and he does, but he also makes Brooklyn look beautiful as well – especially during all of streetlamp lit strolls Tony and Eilis take. Realistic? Maybe not, but this is better.