8.5 out of 10
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey
Emory Cohen as Tony
Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell
Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe
Michael Zegen as Maurizio
Jim Broadbent as Father Flood
Mary O’Driscoll as Miss McAdam
Eileen O’Higgins as Nancy
Emily Bett Rickards as Patty
Paulino Nunes as Mr. Fiorello
Eve Macklin as Diana
Maeve McGrath as Mary
Jenn Murray as Dolores
Aine Ni Mhuiri as Mrs. Byrne
Nora-Jane Noone as Sheila
Directed by John Crowley
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman from a small town in Ireland who travels across the Atlantic to America in 1951 to settle in Brooklyn where she hopes to find a new life. Once there, she meets a charming young Italian named Tony (Emory Cohen) who helps her get over her homesickness, but when she’s called back to Ireland, she’s forced to decide between her new home and her birthplace.
If you’ve seen any recent movies about the immigrant experience of those who came to America anytime in the early to mid-20th Century, whether it’s The Golden Door, James Gray’s The Immigrant or even a movie like Titanic, you’re likely to watch this new movie from author/screenwriter Nick Hornby and Irish stage director John Crowley (Intermission) expecting its protagonist to be in for a terrible experience. The fact there isn’t nearly as much conflict or drama as we’ve seen from so many of these immigrant movies makes it quite a refreshing departure, instead being witty, romantic and quite wonderful.
We meet Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis as she’s saying her goodbyes to her mother and sister and getting ready for the long boat trip to America, specifically Brooklyn where there’s already a healthy population of Irish immigrants like her. Once there, she gets a job as a counter girl at a luxurious department store and tries to fit in with the boy-crazy girls of the boarding house. At a dance, she meets Tony Fierrelo (Emory Cohen), a polite and charming young man who immediately takes a liking to her and their relationship progresses even as she gets homesick. But on returning home, she learns that it’s harder to get back to Tony with other factors trying to keep her in Ireland.
There’s a lot of things to like about Brooklyn, which may not be surprising if you’re familiar with the popularity of the original novel by Colm Toibin, but for me, it took a second viewing with an audience before I could fully appreciate and understand why it worked so well.
A large part of that is the fact that Eilis is such a perfectly suited role for Saoirse Ronan and vice versa, and she does such a fine job making her character relatable even if you’re not Irish or never left home. She’s able to keep the viewer invested because she creates such a presence as you watch how her character evolves and matures over the course of the film without conflict being forced upon her.
Brooklyn also works due to the wonderful cast that Crowley has assembled around her that keeps things light. Emory Cohen is quite a discovery, partially because he’s playing such a different character than his previous roles. He’s just so generally likeable that you’re always rooting for Eilis and Tony’s happiness as they feel out their relationship, and I honestly can see Emory getting a lot more work from this film. By comparison, Domhnall Gleeson as a potential love interest for Eilis after returning home gives a slightly more subdued performance that makes one wonder how he keeps being cast in these romantic roles.
Brooklyn isn’t meant to be a grand epic with big panoramic shots of old world New York or long shots of Eilis’ ship crossing the ocean, instead being a tightly confined film that focuses on the characters, but is no less lovely for it. It offers so many emotional moments where you might have trouble fighting back tears, at times from sorry and others from joy, and Crowley does a fantastic job keeping the film tonally balanced and well-paced.
Some of the funniest scenes take place in the boarding house where Eilis stays as she sits around the table with the house’s matriarch Mrs. Kehoe (a terrific role for Julie Walters, who is clearly one of the film’s true ringers), but there’s an equally funny sequence when Eilis first has dinner over at Tony’s house and has to contend with his boisterous Italian brothers.
The fact there isn’t a ton of conflict Eilis faces may disarm some viewers, especially those expecting things to get darker once Eilis has to leave Tony behind to return to Ireland, but other than the local crank trying to blackmail Eilis with gossip, the film’s last act is more about Eilis deciding where to call her home.
After already doing such an excellent job with the memoirs An Education and Wild, Nick Hornby once again proves he’s as good at adapting other’s work as he is coming up with his own enjoyable stories, proving that you don’t need to be a woman to create an empowering story for them.
The Bottom Line:
Brooklyn is a joyous crowdpleasing experience that’s both witty and sweet and way more than the “chick flick” it sometimes pertains to be. In fact, Eilis’ journey is one that can appeal to a very wide audience, whether you’re man, woman, young or old.
Brooklyn opens in select cities on Friday, November 6.