While the tagline is set to make you think Brooklyn is a simple story about a love torn girl, that would miss so much of the nuisances presented by director John Crowley. One of those would be the great detail given to 1950’s Brooklyn and Ireland. Another important nuisance, and definitely the most important, is the girl torn between both worlds.
By Kenneth Shipp
Eillis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is an Irish born girl sent to America to find better opportunities for work. She tearfully leaves behind her mother and sister as she ventures out to a new life. Her homesickness while she arrives becomes a problem as she pours over new letters from home. She can’t concentrate at work or at home with the other girls in Ms. Kehoe’s boarding house. Through the midst of her sadness and piecing together a new adventure, she meets Tony, an Italian boy who is immediately smitten with her. Eillis’s story really takes off from here, exposing her to different facets of American culture and eventually leading her back to resolving issues at home.
It’s excellent that the relationship between Tony and Eillis is handled gently and at a decent pace. Ronan and Cohen have fun on screen figuring out their relationship and the audience gets to enjoy their funny and light moments as well. Ronan wears her emotions well and we easily connect with her homesickness during the multiple points of her journey. Cohen does a great job as the earnest and innocent plumber pursuing Eillis. He sells us on Tony’s open heart towards Eillis; their scenes together wouldn’t have worked without it. Ronan and Cohen had excellent on screen chemistry and it makes their funny and tense moments all the more special.
The language and traditions of 1952 Ireland and New York will instantly gain your attention. I loved the conversations at the dinner table in Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house. It gives amazing insight to the prevailing thoughts on marriage, courtship, and general ways to carry oneself during that time. Tony introducing his family to Eillis is a very heart-warming scene and continues to establish the time period after his brothers comment on the Irish influences in Brooklyn. The frequent use of narration to show the audience Eillis and her sister Rose’s letters is significant. It helps magnify why they are so torn about the vast distance between them. Even the rare telephone calls assist with reminding us that is not 2015, but 1952. The ease of communication and travel we enjoy now were still decades away. As major life changes occur, these modes of communication only increase the weight of their distance.
Eillis’ return visit to Ireland is what sets up the premise you may have envisioned. And while it’s true she gets torn between two loves, her battle can be described in other ways too. A woman torn between two lives, two homes can be woven into the same headline. She is as much torn between Tony and Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) as she is with her Irish and American communities. When she realizes this for herself, we are treated to a much more confident and assured character who finally knows, once and for all what she wants.
Brooklyn is definitely worth viewing a few times and is a timeless addition to the romance category. It avoids the pitfalls that make so many in this genre feel forced or come off as cheap, tacky attempts at a love story. It helps that Eillis is an interesting character and she can stand on her own
Brooklyn: 9.5 out of 10
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