I’m not keen on romantic films so I was initially going to skip this film despite its sizable Oscar buzz. But my good friend told me to go see it because he felt it was worth my time, and he was correct. Brooklyn is a sweet and touching story of an Irish immigrant coming to America in the early 1950’s based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name. Built on the foundation of a strong period romance, Brooklyn flourishes magnificently. The film is a love letter to both Ireland and America in the 1950’s and the process of acclimating to American society (warts and all).
Saoirse Ronan is absolutely magnificent as Eilis. She’s initially very shy, reserved, and apprehensive about her future. Her experiences in America and Ireland manage to run the gamut from funny to deeply moving and everything in between. We spend the entire movie with Eilis and become extremely invested in her. But the other leads are just as interesting and characterized. The men in her life Tony (Emory Cohen) and Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), are handsome, charming, and good natured--almost to a fault, yet they aren’t one dimensional characters like Jack Dawson and Cal Hockley from Titanic. Each has fully fleshed aspirations and fears just like Eilis. This is partly due to the film’s deliberate pace, and also due to its tone--optimistic and innocent. The film thus relies on Eilis to anchor its tone in any given scene and succeeds brilliantly. We feel her desperation to leave Ireland, her pain and homesickness once she gets to Brooklyn, and witness her slow but defiant transformation into an Irish American woman. When the new life she built in Brooklyn is threatened by the relentless pull of her homeland, she must decide where to continue the rest of her life and who to do it with. Despite the hard choices she faces, it never feels like Eilis is going to fail in America; she’s clever, determined, and attractive (despite what she may initially think of herself).
Brooklyn’s direction, cinematography, and costume design are all top notch. The colors in this movie are bright and vivid especially once Eilis gets to America. Initially, the colors and lighting are drab and muted as she languishes in Ireland without much of a career or romantic future. But when Eilis arrives in America, she literally walks into the light of opportunity, and things become brighter, fuller, and richer. Furthermore, during her slow transformation from an Irish girl in America to an Irish-American she goes from wearing darker colors to bright primary ones, often reds, whites, and blues. Little touches like a foreshadowing shot of a dead tree, a green light in the background of a scene, or the reference to The Quiet Man (of which this movie takes some inspiration from and seems like an inverse version), mean so much more in this well made movie.
The only drawback against this film is that it’s a little too long but it mitigates this with its fantastic character development and their natural chemistry. The film wisely keeps its focus on Eilis, and her experience as an immigrant is always in the foreground. At the same time, Brooklyn’s romantic thread keeps you deeply attached to Eilis and her story. The film’s immigrant tale made me sincerely reflect on my mother’s own odyssey traveling to the United States just twenty-five years later, (from the Caribbean) in the mid 70’s, and my own selfishness for never asking about it. It really does a phenomenal job of showing the difficult but potentially rewarding experience of uprooting oneself and starting over in a new country. Brooklyn is a thought-provoking period piece that deserves your attention.
TLDR: Brooklyn is a deeply moving love story and tribute to both Ireland and Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as an examination of immigration to America in the 1950’s. It’s one of the best films of the year. -4.5/5 Stars