‘Brooklyn’ is the kind of film that reminds you of classic Hollywood. It’s a simple yet majestic story about a young Irish woman Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) immigrating to the United States in the early 1950s. It’s a coming-of-age tale but more importantly the joy and heartache of leaving home for a new life. Based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel, the script is brilliantly adapted by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy). It’s a faithful version that skillfully buffs some of the darker edges of the source material. This film is also a chance for audiences to see Ronan in a grown-up role. She’s an instinctively gifted actress that already has an impressive body of work in ‘Atonement,’ ‘The Lovely Bones,’ ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘Hanna’ at 21-years-old. Her first name Saoirse is pronounced “Seer-shuh.” Keep her name in mind during award season since she is a lock for a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
Eilis (Ronan) lives in the small town of Enniscorthy and works a dead-end job as a shop girl. Her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has contacted an Irish Priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who has agreed to sponsor Eilis to travel across the Atlantic, land a job at a tony department store and secure lodging in a boarding house. Ronan wonderfully shows the homesickness of leaving her friends and family behind for the possibilities of a brighter future. She battles seasickness and mixed emotions on the voyage as anyone would by leaving home for the first time. She’s naïve and reserved but she is also smart and ambitious. Ronan deserves kudos for not making Eilis one-dimensional. She embarks on an entry-level sales job at a department store and quickly begins to take night classes at a local college to become a bookkeeper.
The scenes at the boarding house are peppered with light-hearted humor. The landlady Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) is delightful as the girls’ mother hen. She seems to get a great deal of satisfaction vicariously living through the Irish girl’s adventures trying to find happiness and romance. She sees a maturity and resolve in Eilis that the other girls lack. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Eilis volunteers to serve Christmas dinner to down-and-out Irish expatriates. One destitute old man stands and belts out an Irish song. It perfectly captures the loneliness and despair of these exiles that were somehow unable to hold on to the American Dream. It’s a sublime performance by Ronan as she begins to develop her own identity and blossom into a confident woman. The costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux shows the transformation of Eilis as she smartly enhances her natural beauty with a touch of make-up and elegant fashion sense.
Eilis’ evolution to American life is a naturally slow process like anyone adjusting to a new culture. She tears up when she gets a letter from home. She struggles to be cheerful in front of customers. Her agonizing loneliness begins to dissipate over time. As another young Irish girl takes residence at the boarding house, Eilis volunteers to chaperone her to a local dance. This is where Eilis meets a young Italian man Tony (Emory Cohen) who asks her for a dance and soon they begin to date. He is never pushy with her and the relationship is allowed to grow. Once she feels comfortable around him, Tony invites her over his family’s house for an old-fashioned Italian dinner. There is a cute scene with the girls at the boarding house showing her the proper way to eat spaghetti without splashing. Once at the dinner table, Tony’s little brother Frankie (James DiGiacomo) blurts out “the Italians hate the Irish.” It’s playfully taken with a grain of salt as Tony and Eilis’ romance heats up.
Suddenly, there is an unexpected tragedy back home that uproots Eilis. She returns to Ireland and begins to flirt with the debonair Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). He’s a nice guy that becomes smitten with her. Don’t think for a minute that the rest of the film is just about her choosing between Tony and Jim. The conflict goes way deeper as she examines her choices. It’s not that one guy is better than the other for her. It’s the fact that she has to make the right choice for herself. As the story progresses, the cinematography by Yves Belanger goes from dark grays to delicate pastels that magnificently show how Eilis’ life has graduated to unlimited possibilities. ‘Brooklyn’ is a beautifully crafted movie and Ronan deserves Oscar consideration this award season. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/15syDwC000k.