We are definitely in the age of the well-wrought period piece and Brooklyn has all the trappings you could want. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel the film showcases a pure, noble heroine in Eillis Lacy who like many others makes the journey from her homeland of Ireland to the golden-paved streets of New York.
It’s important to note that the year is 1952 and so being an immigrant is not quite the same as it used to be. Eillis certainly must get used to a foreign land, but it’s more civilized and manageable than years gone by. An Irish father named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), already living in America, became her savior because her sister Rose had asked him to help her little sister. In a new land, she must get accustomed to the boarding house lifestyle and work at a high-end department store. It’s difficult. She’s homesick. There’s so much to adapt to. But the bottom line is that Eillis succeeds because she is a pleasant, hardworking girl of great individual intelligence.
She gels with her landlady and fellow residents enough to gain their respect. And Her life continues as follows: lively gossip at the dinner table, dance halls become the local watering holes, and the daily revolving door of the department store greets her every day. Meanwhile, while helping the Father, he gets her access to night classes so she can take up bookkeeping. She is making something of herself, but greatest of all, she finds a man!
He’s an Italian plumber with an extensive family, but most importantly he’s conscientious and kind. Young love buds and begins to blossom between Tony (Emory Cohen) and Eillis. They go to the pictures to Singin’ in the Rain and Tony acknowledges his deep appreciation for the Brooklyn Dodgers. More than that he confesses his love for Eillis and she returns his feelings. They could not be happier and they certainly deserve to be happy together. However, as often happens in life, our pleasant times are often rained on by tragedy. Eillis receives news that her dear sister Rose has died, leaving their mother alone. Eillis must make the journey back home, leaving Tony, but not before making a major vow to him.
Back home Eillis sees old friends, takes up her sister’s old job as a favor to the company, and finds herself getting set up with a gentlemanly local boy named Jim Farell (Domnhall Gleeson). It’s a little slice of paradise that quietly calls to Eillis. Coaxing her to stay in the land of her kith and kin. It’s a tantalizing offer, but the inviting lights of Brooklyn still wait for her.
While Brooklyn lacks the rough-hewn edge of many other narratives that spring to mind, it’s a wonderfully emotive film that becomes a hauntingly beautiful portrait of immigrant life. It’s a story where oceans separate people like solitary beacons standing on the shoreline. Eillis has a fissure cutting through her existence with the two sides slowly drifting apart. She must make a choice. The key to the film’s dramatic tension is that all roads feel inherently good, all the main players seem agreeable. With all that to mull over, what is the right choice? It becomes a task of parsing through her own identity, what it means to be Irish, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a person of two lands.
That rich, mellifluous Irish brogue of Saoirse Ronan is a beautiful melody that brings a wide-eyed sincerity to Brooklyn’s leading role. But just as importantly both Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson carry their own degrees of charm that nevertheless set them apart from each other. Although Brooklyn does have it’s dramatic moments, it has enough grace for lightness and laughs and it really profits from that. These characters are generally good, as often funny as they are serious. They feel natural.
Brooklyn has the technicolor tones that have come in fashion for denoting a bygone era, and that era is worth at least acknowledging. It’s an age with Ebbetts Field and The Quiet Man. The deep, forgotten depths of handwritten letters and more richly religious overtones. It also reflected different gender expectations and expectations of class and race. But this love story grabs hold of all that is upright and pure about young love and waves it like a banner. It’s about the little things. Learning how to eat spaghetti to impress the parents. Sharing your feelings in the tunnel of love, meet-cutes in dance halls, and reunions on lonely street corners. It’s beautiful and stirringly romantic — even unabashedly so — and in this day and age, that’s not something to take lightly.
“I see now that giddiness is the eighth deadly sin” ~ Landlady