Set in 1952, Brooklyn follows a young Irish woman as she leaves her small town and heads for America to begin a new life. The superbly crafted film presents the immigrant experience romantically, while feeling realistic enough to pass muster. Late in the film, when the lead character must make a major life decision, both choices are laid out so well that it is not immediately clear what her decision will be.
Director John Crowley (Boy A, Intermission) teams with screenwriter Nick Hornby (author of High Fidelity and About a Boy) for the adaptation of Colm Toibin's bestseller. The production is broken into three parts: Getting Ready to Leave Color-Desaturated Ireland, Life and Love in Sunny Brooklyn, and Back to a Much Brighter Ireland and a Decision.
There are some flat moments scattered throughout the movie, and a third-act plot contrivance is a bit annoying, but most of the film is sweet, sad, stirring, and smart – sometimes simultaneously. There are plenty of laughs, too. Credit the director, writer and the fine cast, particularly lead Saoirse Ronan, for making Brooklyn shine.
Eilis Lacey (Ronan) is a soft-spoken young woman who works for a foul shopkeeper (Brid Brennan) and lives in the shadow of her charming older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). She boards a ship to New York with the promise that a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) in Brooklyn will help her get established.
He does just that, and Eilis soon finds herself working at a large department store (love those pneumatic tubes) and living in a boarding house managed by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Warers), a sharp tongued woman who takes a liking to her.
Slowly, Eilis starts to emerge from her shell. She takes bookkeeping classes at Brooklyn College with an eye on becoming an accountant. And she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a sweet Italian kid who comes off like a young James Franco without the smariness. Romance blooms.
And then it's interrupted, when Eilis must return to Ireland because of a family tragedy. Back on home turf, with a marketable skill and increased confidence, she socializes with a number of peers, including a charming admirer named Jim (Domhnall). Eilis realizes she has two worlds from which to choose. Which one will it be?
Saoirse Ronan does exceptional work as Eilis. Her subtle expressions keep the character interesting even when she appears withdrawn from those around her. You can always see her measuring, calculating each situation she must deal with. That quality doesn't go away when she finds her social footing, which adds welcome suspense to the latter section of the story.
My favorite scene in the film comes at a Christmas meal sponsored by the church for mostly older men that are down on their luck. One of the fellows stands to sing a song. It's a beautiful, melancholy tune and we watch and listen for a bit, then the camera shows the other men applauding and the tables being cleared, even as we continue hearing the man sing, until Michael Brook's string-heavy score envelops the tune. Lovely filmmaking.
Another scene shows the door each immigrant goes through after they've passed inspection and been granted admission to the USA. When the door opens, all you can see is white light. I was reminded of Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary character walking onto the mothership at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
That seems about right.