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Review: Brooklyn

November 20, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Brooklyn PosterA moving period romance that captures something profoundly universal about the immigrant experience, Brooklyn is one of those films that grabs us by the heart early on and never lets go, and feels completely sincere while doing so.

Beautifully conveying feelings of loneliness, hope and the promise of falling in love, through a story about finding your own place in the world that is filled with moments of gentle humour, this is one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year.

Like so many other young adults in the 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has left behind her beloved mother (Jane Brennan) and sister (Fiona Glascott) in Ireland, to seek a better life and find work in America, landing on the shores of Brooklyn.

Although welcomed by the kind Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), and given refuge at the boarding home of Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), at first Ellis is overwhelmed with the changes in her life, and left feeling profoundly homesick for the country and family she left behind.  But when she falls deeply in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), a charming young Italian guy who sweeps her off her feet despite their cultural differences, Eilis starts to set down roots in her new hometown.  This just makes a tragic trip back to her old country, and the attention of well-meaning local boy Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), that much more conflicting and heartbreaking.

Directed by John Crowley, Brooklyn is classic filmmaking in every sense of the term, and the production is top notch across the board, from the luminous cinematography to the gorgeous and authentic period costumes.  Adapting Colm Toibon’s bestselling novel for the screen, Nick Hornby has crafted a sensitive and beautifully written screenplay, that is refreshingly respectful of its leading character and the choices she makes.  After also scoring hits with An Education and Wild, the writer continues to prove himself as one of our finest purveyors of nuanced and believable female characters.

The film very much focuses on Eilis’ journey, and the love triangle comes to symbolize much more than just the choice between two different guys who each have their own merits.  Both men represent choices that has to make, between a new country and the one where she was born.  For the first time in her life, Eilis has to choose between the quiet beauty of Ireland, versus the bustling promise of New York.  The film understands that it’s important for her to reach a point where she can decide for herself, and we become so invested in her story that it’s hard not to get choked up alongside her at the bittersweet end.

Saoirse Ronan never hits a wrong note in her touching and deeply felt portrayal of a young immigrant, drawing us in with her striking blue eyes and capturing our own emotions through small changes in facial expressions.  Reflecting on her own experience of being born in New York to Irish parents, the young actress delivers a nuanced performance that ranks as her best work yet, blossoming right in front of us into one of the finest leading ladies of our generation.  Emory Cohen brings immense charm to the role of her love interest, with the two young actors displaying a wonderful sense of chemistry between them.  Domhnall Gleeson also delivers heartbreakingly affective and beautifully understated work.

It’s a little hard to write about Brooklyn without just swooning over and over again about how charming and touching the whole thing is to watch.  There are just so many wonderful sequences here, and feelings that the film evokes, which have stuck with me since first seeing it.  This is one of the loveliest and most beautifully crafted films of the year, a luscious and deeply moving period romance and story of finding home, built around a radiant performance from Saoirse Ronan.  Your heart will soar, as did mine.

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