Brooklyn, a film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, chronicles the life of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s. Although the experience is trying at first, Eilis learns to effectively assimilate into her new life. She meets a young Italian plumber named Tony and the two fall in love. However, after an unforeseen event, Eilis is forced to return to Ireland where she is presented with a dilemma and life-changing choice.
The movie progresses at a crisp pace. Not surprisingly, the film opens in Ireland. Eilis works at a village bakery but receives notice that a reverend friend in Brooklyn has made arrangements to Eilis to live and work in the new country. I thought the movie would focus more on the journey to the United States, but the boat voyage was only a small cross-section of the overall story.
Once Eilis arrives in Brooklyn, she experiences the typical phases of moving from home to a foreign locale. She is plagued with homesickness and loneliness. Luckily, the house in which she lives accommodates several immigrant women. She and the women decide to attend a church dance in an attempt to meet young men. Eilis also begins to take college courses. Through her more active lifestyle, she quickly overcomes her melancholy. Eilis and the young man she meets at the dance, Tony, begin a relationship. This interaction also provides Eilis with additional experiences to combat any further depression.
Just when it looks like nothing could go wrong, a sudden incident unfolds in Ireland and Eilis is compelled to return. Her friends and family in Ireland are unaware that she and Tony have been married. It is during this time that Eilis truly realizes how much she has changed and grown as an individual and how little her Irish friends and family have changed. While home, she is presented with a situation in which she must make a decision that could chance the rest of her life.
The tone is Brooklyn is light and warm, though it does have emotional elements. Having heard that it was a story of an immigrant, I had initially thought the story may be a bit darker or more depressing; that was not the case. I’m sure there was discrimination and other issues facing immigrants at that time, but keep in mind that Eilis moved to New York in the early 1950s, not during the Industrial Revolution. Had she have emigrated then, her story would have undoubtedly been different.
Saoirse Ronan’s performance is excellent and convincing. It likely helped that she herself is Irish, but that provided an additional layer of authenticity to her role. Eilis’ character arc is one of the best progressions I have recently seen. At the beginning of the movie, she is a timid young woman who experiences a nerve-wracking journey. During the boat sequence, it is clear how little she knows about sea travel and adapting to new things, especially compared to her cabin mate. Throughout the film’s progression, we see her become more accustomed to her new life, so much so that she carves out her own niche in Brooklyn with her classes, Tony, and job. By the end of the movie, she has come full circle. She is now the more astute traveler on the boat traversing the Atlantic and she has developed into her own unique person. In a time when characters are often not developed to their full potential, this was a relief and a joy to watch.
Emory Cohen displays his talent by delivering a solid performance as Tony. The chemistry between Tony and Eilis felt authentic and their interactions with each other and with Tony’s family were remarkably entertaining. Not surprisingly, Cohen and Ronan are the principal actors and that is clear throughout the story. The supporting cast is blended heavily with Canadian, Irish, and British actors who provide good performances, but as I mentioned, Ronan and Cohen steal the show.
The production design, set pieces, and wardrobe are beautiful and capture what I think early 1950s America would have looked and felt like. I personally enjoy the 1950s and early 1960s, so it was fun to see this period featured in a 2015 movie. In general, it was hard to distinguish the CGI in Brooklyn, but the sequence with Eilis on the boat at the beginning of the film, specifically when she and her cabin mate were standing on the deck, looked like it was in front of a green screen. A bit more refinement could have been nice, but it was not abhorrently obvious.
John Crowley does a great job with directing the film. I personally haven’t seen any of his other work, but Brooklyn looks like it is his first period piece and he does an excellent job with it. Additionally, the movie received several awards nominations and was able to secure a few wins. Having seen Brooklyn, if Crowley were to ever direct another period film, I would be eager to see it.
Overall, Brooklyn is a warm, heartfelt tale of facing challenges, growing as an individual, and, perhaps most importantly, a genuine love story. Given its setting, it was a nice to see the values of the 1950s represented. I was especially pleased that, for the most part, Brooklyn did not digress into showing twenty-first century values within a 1950s aesthetic and it stayed true to the period in which it was set. That being said, Brooklyn is a different type of romance movie (not a romantic comedy due to limited comedic material). Whether you are looking for a positive love story or you enjoy the mid-twentieth century era, Brooklyn is well worth your time.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production: Wildgaze Films; Parallel Film Productions; BAI; BBC Films; BFI Film Fund; Broadcasting Authority of Ireland; Bun and Ham Productions; Crédit d'Impôt Cinéma et Télévision; Finola Dwyer Productions; The Government of Ireland; HanWay Films; Ingenious Productions; Irish Film Board; Item 7; MEDIA Programme of the European Union; Quebec Film and Television Tax Credit; Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ); SODEC; Téléfilm Canada
Director: John Crowley
Producer: Finola Dwyer; Pierre Even; Susan Mullen; Amanda Posey; Marie-Claude Poulin
Screenwriter: Nich Nornby (screenplay); Colm Tóibín (book)
Director of Photography: Yves Bélanger
Editor: Jake Roberts
Music: Michael Brook
Orchestrator: David G. Russell
Costume Designer: Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Casting Director: Fiona Weir
Production Designer: François Séguin
Budget: ca. $11,000,000
Release Date: November 25, 2015 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: N/A
Copyright Holder: Wildgaze Films Ltd; Item 7 Inc.; Farallel Films; British Broadcasting Corporation; The British Film Institute
Cast: Saoirse Ronan; Emory Cohen; Domhnall Gleeson; Hugh Gormley; Brid Brennan; Maeve McGrath; Emma Lowe; Barbara Drennan; Fiona Glascott; Jane Brennan; Eileen O’Higgins; Peter Campion; Jim Broadbent; Julie Walters; Emily Bett Rickards; Eve Macklin; Nora-Jane Noone; Mary O’Driscoll; Samantha Munro; Jessica Paré
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Rating: PG-13; Descriptors: A scene of sexuality and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hour and 51 minutes (111 mins.)