Brooklyn is a beautiful period drama and rich piece of romantic storytelling that boasts great performances.
Brooklyn takes place during the early 1950s, as a young Irish woman named Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) immigrates to the United States - with the assistance of members from her church like Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) - in search of a better life and more opportunities for her future. While Eilis at first struggles with the challenges of settling into a new home, as well as the heartbreak of leaving her old life (and family) behind, she eventually begins to move forward - not just by pursuing the career that she wants, but also forming a relationship with a young working-class Italian man named Antonio "Tony" Fiorello (Emory Cohen).
However, when personal tragedy strikes, Eilis returns back to Ireland in order to grieve properly - aware that by doing so, there's a danger she won't return to Brooklyn and the life she's begun to build with Tony. Indeed, once back in Ireland, Eilis is tempted to stay by new career prospects, as well as a kindly suitor named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), forcing her to decide where her true home is now... and exactly what sort of life she wants for herself.
Brooklyn, which is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín, has elements of an old-fashioned romance coupled with a quietly thoughtful examination of the immigrant experience (and the issues of cultural identity and familial responsibility that immigrants must deal with, in turn). The result is a tender and moving piece of melodrama storytelling - one that is further elevated by excellent work from everyone who was involved with the film, both onscreen and behind the scenes.
The adapted Brooklyn screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Wild) features a swoon-worthy love story that brings to mind the collective works of Nicholas Sparks - albeit, without the saccharine touch and heavy-handed story beats that the author's own books (and their film adaptations) tend to include. Brooklyn's narrative does feature developments and plot threads that border on being contrived, yet it is the way they are handled that makes all the difference. The movie in turn avoids being a clichéd love triangle story by maintaining its focus on Eilis' struggle to reconcile her heritage with the path she has begun forging for herself - giving rise to a more sophisticated tale that still wears its heart on it sleeve, in the process.
Brooklyn is also a visually pleasing period drama, thanks to the efforts of director John Crowley (Boy A) and his collaborators. Crowley and cinematographer Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) bathe the film in warm light; this, in combination with their careful framing techniques, gives rise to many a picturesque shot throughout the movie, further enhancing its sentimental atmosphere, without coming off heavy-handed in the process. Similarly, the lovely costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux (An Education) and the handsome production design by François Séguin (Silk) in Brooklyn gives rise to a vision of both 1950s New York and Ireland that is fairy tale like, yet grounded and doesn't overly-romanticize that time in history, either.
Indeed, a good chunk of Brooklyn's running time is devoted to exploring day to day struggles faced by Ellis as she adjusts to life in the U.S., allowing the film's protagonist (and the problems she faces) to be all the more relatable and engaging for it. Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan infuses the Eilis character with rich humanity too, bringing her to life via through an awards-worthy performance as an inexperienced, yet intelligent and practical-minded young person coming into adulthood. Ronan's protagonist finds two appropriate romantic foils in the young men played by Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines) and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina) - and the latter two actors likewise bring the perfect mix of aw-shucks charm and quiet vulnerability to their respective roles.
Reputable character actors like Julie Walters (Harry Potter), Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady), and Jessica Paré (Mad Men) do solid work in supporting roles in Brooklyn, as characters - each with their individual quirks - who provide Eilis with different forms of guidance over the course of her journey, both physical and emotional. The same also goes for Jane Brennan (The Tudors) and Fiona Glascott (Episodes), who play Eilis' mother and sister, respectively; the pair are not onscreen in Brooklyn for that long, but make their limited screen time count - and their interactions with Eilis are more poignant for it.
Likewise, Brooklyn cast members such as Emily Bett Rickards (Arrow) and Jenn Murray (Earthbound) bring a welcome dose of levity to the proceedings - playing other women staying at the same boarding house in Brooklyn as Eilis. A significant chunk of the film highlights the experiences of these women - adding yet another worthwhile layer to the overall narrative - and there's nary a weak link in the chain, as far as the performance during those scenes (or the movie in general) goes.
To put it simply, Brooklyn is a beautiful period drama and rich piece of romantic storytelling that boasts great performances. The film has already generated a good deal of awards season buzz and deservedly so, as it brings its story of a simple young immigrant to life in a stirring and sensitive fashion - without ever being pretentious or insincere, in the process. Those who are willing to give this unabashedly old-fashioned drama a chance and see it in theaters should find themselves well rewarded for their efforts.
Brooklyn is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 113 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.
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