Rare as it is for quality period drama films to appear at the U.S box office, when they show up, it’s nearly guaranteed I’ll be noticing them. Such was the case with last year’s Brooklyn. Though I didn’t know much about it at the time (whether or not critics liked it or how the script ended things) I didn’t seem to care about the details. I was going to see this one no matter what. Now I finally have, there are, naturally, feelings to put to paper.
Ireland is home for Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan). It’s all she’s ever known until, as she enters adulthood, the opportunities for a young lady in the small village limit her. As her best friend is falling in love with the man of her dreams and with a work position that’s less than ideal, Eilis’ life is less than she imagines. Her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) arranges for Eilis to go to America where she has secured a place through the assistance of a priest who helps immigrants.
With the long and exhaustive journey behind her, heartbreak hits Eilis with great force. Despite the cheerful young women sharing her boarding house, Eilis is lovely and homesick in ways she cannot even describe. She walks through her days as if drowning… until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen). A gentleman who is struck by Eilis from the moment he sees her, Tony is a hardworking Italian Brooklyn native with three brothers. As the two of them begin to spend time together, Eilis’ life changes and she again knows happiness. And then she receives devastating news from home… news that might call her back to the place she called home.
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Good enough to be an Oscar nominated film (for more than one category), Brooklyn is one of those films that doesn’t say a lot and yet, says so much. The story is a gentle one that doesn’t hurry itself or rush its characters journey (in fact, it’s 40+ minutes into the nearly 2-hour script before Tony and longer still for another prominent character to appear in Eilis’ life). As I watched this adaptation (based on a novel of the same name) unfurl, I was captivated and also curious that the primary plot (or what I thought was) hadn’t even hinted at taking shape.
Going into this, I had a different idea of what it’d be. To begin, I didn’t realize this would move as slowly as it did. For over half of the film I was understanding of this and appreciated the importance of it, but at rare times I wanted to shake the characters to do or say something (or in one area of her life, slap Eilis silly – and then, immediately after that, hug her for finding her bravado). Fortunately, such instances were few and the thrust of the film being quiet was vitally important. As those early forty minutes stay with Eilis, we are better able to sympathize with her story and what it meant for her to leave home. Ronan’s portrayal of her is heartbreakingly beautiful. The layers she has and the transformation that comes of her shedding those layers is lovely. Similarly, the rest of the cast is phenomenal. I enjoyed seeing a new actor in a leading man role, and also seeing the talents of Julie Walters and Emily Bett Rickards (Arrow) in an all-too-small role.
Like the rest of the script, the romance is anything but “passionate.” I enjoyed how this part of the story was written and the fact that it does look at a blossoming romance as a more genuine, “real” relationship. There was one thing I felt the writer’s did in error that, in my opinion, almost “ruined” the quiet charm of the relationship up until then. A different approach would have been welcome and far sweeter to complete the romance. But beyond that, I’ve no complaints. Though it goes without saying, I cannot end without commenting on and praising the costume design. As usual, it’s stunning. Eilis’ wardrobe is 50s proper and perfect, and I kinda' want it.
If you like this genre, Brooklyn is a joy to discover. It’s a pleasant piece of cinema for more reasons than one, not the least of which is its vision of “magic” as we rediscover everything through Eilis’ eyes in this special kind of coming-of-age story.