BFI London Film Festival: Brooklyn

Directed by John Crowley
Written by Nick Hornby
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters

Brooklyn is a visually stunning film and touching story about a young Irish girl named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) as she makes herself a new home away from Ireland.  Saoirse Ronan is captivating as Eilis, as she transforms from a meek homesick girl from small-town Ireland into a strong woman confident in her decisions.  The story is about the difficulty in choosing a path in life, and watching Eilis’ torment at the prospect is empathetically infatuating.

There are no opportunities left in Eilis’ small Irish town as the post-war economy is harsh and the suitors not coming out of the woodwork.  Encouraged by her older sister Rose to find opportunity elsewhere, Eilis emigrates to Brooklyn, New York where she at first struggles to find her place.  She struggles in her job working at a department store as her homesickness prevents her from mustering the positive attitude to get through routine conversations with customers.  Her home life is more encouraging as she has a room in a house of other single Irish girls who are new to America, with matriarch landlady Mrs. Kehoe played hilariously by Julie Walters.

Eilis’ priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) enrolls her into a bookkeeping night course and things begin to take a turn for the better.  Eilis not only begins to fill her nights with knowledge and job prospects, but she meets Italian suitor Tony (Emory Cohen) and falls in love.  As things are looking prosperous for Eilis, tragedy brings her back to Ireland where she finds both job prospect and an ideal suitor in Jim (Domhnall Gleeson).  Eilis must now choose where her heart belongs and where her home is.

As an immigrant myself (to the UK from Canada), I strongly empathize with Eilis’ dilemma.  While I’ve not had a transatlantic love triangle to deal with, I’ve often deliberated where my true home is – London or Toronto.  In this day and age it’s much easier to be transient in one’s residency thanks to the ease of air travel and Skype.  But for Eilis in a post-war world, there is more permanence in her decision as a journey between Brooklyn and Ireland lasts at least two weeks by boat, and leaving her family behind in Ireland means leaving them behind without communication.  I struggled enough in my decision to stay in London for the past 12 years, but without visiting Toronto twice a year and having phone and FaceTime to allow me to reach out when need be, my decision would have been much harder, and perhaps with a different outcome.  This film is not for the homesick.

The fact that Saoirse Ronan is so engaging as Eilis makes this film even more empathetic to the viewer.  There is a lot going on in her eyes alone, and she is a fascinating actress.  The look of her as Eilis in these colourful 1950’s outfits is just beautiful, and the cinematography and set dressing equally so.  This film is visually stunning as colours and shapes dance off the screen.  I never so much wanted to live inside a movie’s world (except Back to the Future of course).

While Eilis is making all of the hard decisions, the audience’s is easy – go and see the elegant and captivating Brooklyn.


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