The saga of Irish immigrants in the United States has been well documented in cinema, from Far and Away to Gangs of New York to In America, but it’s never been told in such a beautifully nuanced way as with John Crowley’s Brooklyn.
Starring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, an Irish teenager who emigrates from her small village of Enniscorthy in the early 1950s, Brooklyn is an brilliant, absorbing film, and Ronan herself is the mesmerizing glue that holds it all together. She has thankfully put the abomination of 2013’s The Host behind her (though it was no fault of her own) and has returned to the level of quality filmmaking that first put her on the map in 2011 with the vastly underrated Hanna.
The words may be screenwriter Nick Hornby’s, by way of Colm Tóibín’s best-selling novel, but it’s Ronan’s stunning performance that resonates most. Deftly drifting from melancholy to hope and back again, she powers Brooklyn forward with a level of talent unseen so far this year.
Escaping the limits of her tiny town, Eilis comes to America with only a suitcase. Once stateside, she meets up with earlier emigre Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), who has set her up with a room in a Brooklyn boarding house and a job at Bartocci’s, the local department store. As the pangs of homesickness begin to settle, Eilis meets young Italian American Tony (Emory Cohen). Their courtship may be one of the sweetest sequences to hit theaters in 2015, highlighted by the wonderful moment when Tony brings his new girl to meet his family.
Just as their love begins to blossom, Eilis is called home suddenly, and her sense of duty to her homeland and her family wrestle with the new life and love she’s found in New York. It’s a forked road that Ronan handles with the poise of a seasoned acting veteran, and her compelling, heartbreaking work grips the audience with both hands and won’t let go.
Director Crowley (Closed Circuit) paints a vivid picture of 1950s Ireland and America without feeling the need to fall back on overly sentimental tropes. Brooklyn’s success is most apparent in quiet subtle moments, where the outstanding cast is simply asked to bring Hornby’s exquisite script to life. To wit, Julie Walters fabulous turn as Eilis’s spunky landlady.
With a rare, endearing sense of grace and tenderness, Brooklyn tells a very simple love story. But underneath the surface is a film of such emotional depth and complexity that its poignancy lingers for a long time after the credits roll.