Not seeing much of a future for herself in 1950s rural Ireland, and encouraged by her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), Eilis Lacey sails to New York where she’s offered a job as a sales assistant in a department store and she’s lodged in the house of Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters), all arranged by an Irish-American priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). Eilis is terribly homesick but as she starts to relax, she meets a young Italian-American, Tony Fiorello and they fall in love. When a family tragedy takes her back to Ireland again, she feels both alien and conflicted. She looks glamorous and foreign in the small, constricted streets of Enniscorthy while she’s being courted by the gentle and thoughtful Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson). Worse, she finds herself falling in love again…
The film elegantly and subtly captures the dilemma of choosing between two equally serious and wonderful men. Jim and Tony are symbols of two different worlds: old, rural Europe and the dynamic, inexhaustible energy of the New World. How could Eilis decide between these conflicting worlds when she herself is conflicted: in New York, she’s just an Irish girl, in Enniscorthy, she’s too American.
Saoirse Ronan, as always, is excellent in her role as a young girl turned sophisticated city woman, tormented by her inner turmoil and life’s impossible twists and turns. Ronan belongs to that elite circle of performers who don’t need words to express themselves; her eyes alone can convey a whole range of emotions in a matter of seconds. One of the things that make Brooklyn so outstanding is the excellent casting. Cohen is spot on as the working class boy who, behind his sensual gentleness, has a steady determination to succeed, he knows what he wants and he has a plan. Gleeson as the handsome and slightly reserved Jim, Broadbent as the good-hearted priest, and Walters as Eilis’s sharp-tongued landlady, Mrs Kehoe, all shine their charisma through the screen. However, two actresses in smaller roles steal the scenes on several occasions: Brid Brennan as Miss Kelly, Eilis’s former employer in Enniscorthy and Jessica Paré (Mad Men) as Miss Fortini, her new boss in New York. Brennan’s lonely, scheming, bitter old spinster is so malevolent that one feels both aversion and pity towards her, while Paré’s ultra-pretty and coldly formidable dominatrix hints at lesbianism which, in fact, is there in the original novel but is toned down in the movie. One of the deleted scenes speaks for itself.
Perhaps the only flaw of the film is that it’s too beautiful, too perfect. As if the dark and grimy corners of life were covered up by a luxurious Persian carpet. We get a little glimpse into the shadows when Father Flood organises a Christmas lunch for down-and-out, homesick Irish immigrants – it’s a moving sequence of scenes.
All in all, Brooklyn is an excellent movie that works on many levels and it creates a strong and independent female heroine we should see more of. It deservedly got three Oscar nominations (in the Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay categories) but sadly gathered none.
Review by Eva Moravetz
Extras: Interview with Saoirse Ronan and Colm Tóibín, a short featurette and some deleted scenes.
Brooklyn is out now on home entertainment.