Film Reviews

GOES TO 11 – <em>Brooklyn</em> (2015)

GOES TO 11 – Brooklyn (2015)

Sidney Moore

January 29th, 2016


Moving out on your own for the first time can be a difficult experience for many, filled with homesickness and financial troubles. Yet it’s something everyone does, usually when they’re freshly eighteen and off to college. The difficulty increases infinitely when the place you move to is more than 3000 miles away from your hometown and you have to travel by boat. Such are the problems faced by Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn, directed by Jack Crowley.

Released in 2009, Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn was praised for its delicate portrayal of the life of a young immigrant in mid-century New York City. This rings true for the film adaptation as well, which was rewritten for the screen by Nick Hornby, who also adapted Wild.

Eilis despises her hometown, and after receiving financial support from her emotionally distant older sister, Rose, and a generous priest, sets out for New York. After admitting to a fellow passenger that she knows no one in the States, she is advised to settle in Brooklyn because of its large population of Irish immigrants.

She settles into a boarding house in Brooklyn, New York, with a job at a shop and night classes at Brooklyn College. A timid, lonely girl at first, Eilis receives support from her roommates and, eventually, a love interest named Tony. Eilis blossoms in Brooklyn, becoming a confident and glamorous woman, but a family tragedy forces her to return to Ireland. The tragedy feels slightly rushed and contrived, but it ultimately forces Eilis to make the difficult decision to either remain in Ireland with the life which is familiar and comfortable, or return to New York to face the unknown but exciting life that awaits her there.

Brooklyn is a touching and dramatic coming-of-age story that taps into the fear of the future experienced by so many young people, while also steering clear of fish-out-of-water stereotypes that befall many stories of immigration. Instead, the film portrays the difficulties and indecisiveness of becoming an adult in a strange place.

Whether it’s the influence of shows such as Mad Men, there has recently been a high demand for period pieces, especially those set in the 1950s and 60s, in both independent and mainstream cinema. From the costuming to the set design, Brooklyn provides as a period piece, but the time frame is merely a backdrop for a poignant story that could take place in New York City today. Because of its universal message, the film transcends time and place, and as such, refuses to lose its story to the decorations of another time.

While the film touches on some of the struggles Eilis faces as an immigrant, such as coping with homesickness, it is much more about her becoming an independent young woman. It accurately portrays the history of Irish immigrants in New York; which is fitting, given that the Irish were integral in the shaping of New York City. However, as this film goes, the subject of immigration takes a backseat to Eilis’s personal journey. The film is, at its heart, more of a coming of age romance than anything else. Eilis could just as easily been from Alaska or Kansas as from Ireland, because her ethnicity is not what matters here.

Although it was shot mostly in Montreal, the film paints a loving picture of New York City and the people who live there that is reminiscent of some of Scorsese’s earlier work. Through the protagonist’s eyes, the City is at first a terrifying place full of strange people; later, when Eilis is drunk on love, it becomes an idyllic place full of opportunity.

Crowley frames and shoots Ireland and Brooklyn in the same way, with long takes and wide frames, which allows for a contrast between the two places, the crowded beaches of Coney Island standing in comparison to the stark, empty coasts of Ireland. Yet both places are beautified by cinematographer Yves Belanger’s lenses, and Eilis’s eyes.

The virtually unknown cast does a superb job, especially the film’s lead, Saoirse Ronan. Eilis doesn’t talk much, but the film doesn’t need much dialogue when Ronan’s emotional expressive says everything for her. During one of Crowley’s long, lingering closeups of Ronan, we can see multiple emotions play across her face in a manner of seconds. It is Ronan who prevents the film from succumbing to melodrama during some of its more sentimental moments. The supporting cast offers a colorful assortment of characters as well. Emory Cohen plays Tony with a heartfelt bravado that recalls a young Brando or De Niro, and Eilis’s irreverent roommates provide some much-needed dry wit.

In a long line of movies which chronicle a young person’s journey of self-discovery, Brooklyn stands out for its heartfelt honesty about how difficult that journey can be.


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