Merry merry and good cheer all around, I hope you’ve had a lovely few days if you celebrated Christmas. I’ve got a real gem of a movie for you to catch during the holidays, one that makes you feel the range of emotions from sadness to joy without having to succumb to the smarminess of Love Actually and other seasonal staples.
Brooklyn is the story of Eilis, a young Irish girl going nowhere fast in a small town in 1950’s Ireland. With the help of her sister, she manages to secure a job and a place to live in Brooklyn, New York, so she packs up what little is left of her life and travels by boat to New York. Although she has a boarding house to live in and a decent job, her first few months are marred by an unrelenting homesickness. She corresponds with her sister via letters and each one reminds her of what she left behind, even if it didn’t seem like much at the time.
The local Irish priest enrols her in bookkeeping classes, where she excels and begins to find some of her own identity, separate from who she was in Ireland. Then, one evening, she meets Tony, an Italian-American, and with this meeting her life in Brooklyn really begins to change. However, just as their relationship seems to come into itself, tragedy strikes at home and Eilis is forced to return to Ireland for a period. Here, she finds she now has the opportunities she never had before she left and she must decide where to make a life for herself.
Not long in to the movie, one of my companions asked me “I wonder where this story is going?” The thing is, Brooklyn is not a movie with a high concept plot that has you at the edge of your seat. If that is the kind of story you are after, you should be prepared to be disappointed. But I urge you to watch it nonetheless.
If you do give it a go, rather than at the edge of your seat, you should find yourself completely immersed in a certain, critical period of time in a young person’s life. With outstanding performances by Saoirse Ronan (Eilis) and Emory Cohen (Tony) you feel so invested in these characters that you are at a bit of a loss when the movie finishes. I already knew Ronan to be a formidable actress, with a face that’s like a canvas for emotions, but Cohen really came out of nowhere. He plays Tony with just the right amount of charm, yet there is also an awkwardness and sincerity to him which makes him endearingly vulnerable. I lost count of the amount of times I just wanted to reach through the screen and hug both of them.
And before you think this is “just” a love story, let me correct you straight away. Brooklyn is a highly relatable portrayal of what it means to leave behind the place you came from and create a life for yourself elsewhere. As someone who has lived outside of my own country of birth for almost half my life, and have had to start over in different countries several times, Eilis’ anguish was like a stab in the heart to me. The confusion you feel when you move some place new, the rootlessness, the loneliness; Brooklyn brings all of these aspects beautifully to the screen thanks to its measured script and engaging performances. I imagine that people will relate even if they only ever moved from a small town to the nearest big city.
Lastly, the film is absolutely stunning in its cinematography (DP is Yves Bélanger, also known for Wild and Dallas Buyers Club), art direction, costume design and make-up. It will leave you aching for the 1950’s, even if it means giving up your iPhone, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and various civil and human rights you take for granted now.
Brooklyn is a true delight, the kind of film you will happily watch again and again, just to spend some more time with its characters. If you come away from this movie with anything less than a broad smile and a warm fuzzy feeling inside, I’d love to hear from you and confirm you aren’t, in actual fact, some grumpy unicorn.