BROOKLYN Movie Review
Saoirse Ronan wears her heart on her sleeve as young hopeful Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn, an adaptation of the Colm Toibin novel by screenwriter Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley. Ronan’s charm and vulnerability adds up to the strongest performance of her career, and Crowley’s poetic vision of Eilis’ native Ireland and romantic canvas of her emotional voyage to 1950s Brooklyn invokes an old-fashioned approach to cinematic storytelling that’s rarely seen today. Hornby’s script is rich in character and has an intimacy that sets a melodramatic tone recalling the work of Douglas Sirk, allowing Yves Belanger’s colorful cinematography to distinctly capture each moment of Eilis’ personal journey as a new visual perspective as Michael Brook’s sweeping score gives an intimate story a grand sense of scope.
Julie Walters is teriffic as Madge Kehoe, the bold and charming head of the boarding house where Eilis resides, providing comic relief with her sharp observations and warm guidance to Eilis fragile innocence. After struggling with a severe case of homesickness, Eilis’ finds her heart taken at a local dance by Tony Fiorelloa, a humble Italian plumber with a weakness for Irish girls. Emory Cohen gives Tony a bashful and charming James Dean quality without going over the top and his chemistry with Ronan is irresistible. James Digiacomo deserves mention as Tony’s scene-stealing 8-year-old brother Frankie, who’s not only funny but avoids being the annoyingly cute cliche that child actors often portray.
A family tragedy calls Eilis back to Ireland and Tony’s insecurity weighs on her internal conflict. Back home carrying a substantial secret under her mother’s lonely eye, she prolongs her visit for her best friend’s wedding and catches the attention of a potential suitor Jim Farrell played by Domhnall Gleeson. This guys is having a stellar year with his wonderfully grounded performances in here and in his previous film, Ex Machina. Hornby’s script doesn’t fill Eilis’ personal predicament with false dramatic tension or paint any manipulative motivations to influence her decision, unless you count the vindictive blackmail of a nasty employer she encounters from her old job. Everything that plays out makes sense as real a dilemma, and her choices are based on an honest pursuit of happiness.
It may seem easy for any hard cynic to resist the optimism and old-fashioned charm of Brooklyn at first, but once the central character gets her emotional hooks into you, and the romantic scenery sweeps you away, there’s no coming back. John Crowley directs Brooklyn successfully through heartfelt intentions and restraint when he could have easily resorted to manipulative schmaltz such as one touching scene where a homeless immigrant sings “A Twist of the Rope” at a Christmas Dinner, bringing Eilis to tears. However, it’s played as another honest moment that simply reminds her of the struggle and determination she’s faced on her quest for life.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Brooklyn finds time to reference The Quiet Man and Singin’ in the Rain, as both are great examples of a time and place that Brooklyn elegantly reminds us that it’s alright to embrace sincerity and warmth in movies in cold and harsh times.