4 out of 5 stars
Directed by John Crowley
Stars Saiorse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson.
113 min, PG-13
Now playing at local theaters
Brooklyn is an ode to the immigrant experience in America, released at a time when half the population seems to have forgotten immigrants' role in our history.
Directed by John Crowley (Intermission, Boy A), the coming-of-age tale stars Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna) as Eilis (pronounced ay-lish), who contends with homesickness and the torn feelings that come with starting over far from home.
Eilis's journey begins in the early 1950s. We meet her as she's leaving her home and ill-humored mother in rural Ireland for a new life in New York. The trip has been planned by her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), with the help of recently emigrated Father Flood (Jim Broadbent).
Once in America, Eilis settles into a boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and gets a job at a department store, where Mad Men's Jessica Paré plays a glamorous, no-nonsense manager who deftly scares Eilis out of her shell.
Father Flood enrolls the young Irishwoman in a bookkeeping night-school course and invites her to a church dance, where she meets a charming Italian-American boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). A tender courtship ensues, but just as Eilis begins to get over her homesickness, bad news from home sends her back to Ireland for several weeks. There, she finds satisfying temporary work in an office and meets a handsome eligible bachelor, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). Things come together so well — too well — presenting Eilis with a "stay or go" dilemma that may haunt her for the rest of her life.
From a tearful goodbye aboard a transatlantic liner to heart-wrenching letters from home to the elation of falling in love, and many micro-moments in between, Ronan lives up to the hype of her Oscar-buzzed performance. Demure with steely resolve, Ronan navigates a juggernaut of emotions with skill and understated authenticity. Her co-stars Cohen and Gleeson are both sympathetic suitors, too.
Novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, Wild) breezily adapts Colm Tóibín's acclaimed novel with an eye for what works better on the big screen while remaining faithful to the book's salty Irish wit. Hornby's knack for dialogue coupled with Crowley's grasp of humanity immerse us in Eilis's world. Hornby takes some liberties with the ending, which might annoy fans of the book.
The film version captivates with its Golden Age flourish. Orchestral swells and sweeping cinematography add a veneer of old Hollywood melodrama. The spiffy 1950s fashions will make some pine for a more fashionable, put-together time, and the film's warm earth tones resemble oil-painted photographs from the past. These and other thoughtful details re-create the trajectory of relocating to America and will strike a chord with anyone who arrived to the U.S. by boat or plane to start a new life.