All Roads Lead to Brooklyn
Based on the 2009 Colm Toibin novel of the same name, Brooklyn is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale with ample sincerity and optimism in tackling layers of timeless issues. Set in early 1950s Ireland, young Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan, The Grand Budapest Hotel) finds herself going nowhere in her little town, working at a small shop run by her spiteful boss (Brid Brennan). Fate however, has much larger plans.
Her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) provides her with the golden ticket to America, pulling a few strings with her contacts to hook her up with a place to live and employment in Brooklyn. Eilis jumps at the opportunity, departing immediately for a chance to take her life in a new direction. A heartbreaking departure, Eilis finds herself a stranger on a journey much bigger than herself until she’s guided by a kindly passenger, who takes her under her wing.
Without the right knowledge, passing through immigration would have been a stressful ordeal for Eilis. But now possessing the advice from her guide, entrance into the land of opportunity becomes smooth sailing. It gracefully gives hope once more that America is the place to be for anyone and everyone. It’s not a total rose-colored transition for Eilis. While she has a place to stay at an all-female boardinghouse and job at classy department store, Eilis struggles heavily with homesickness and isolation in her first few months abroad.
Immigration may strike a heavy thematic chord here, but Brooklyn resonates with anyone who has been away from home, trying to better themselves. Ronan genuinely exhibits her struggles day in and day out, having problem keeping up a happy face at work (before breaking down behind closed doors) to feeling like an outcast at the boardhouse dinner table.
Despite a rocky start, Eilis begins to blossom in America, finding herself over time and building the confidence to become the independent woman she needs to be to survive. Thanks to the charity of Father Flood (a minimally used Jim Broadbent), Eilis is given the opportunity to better herself through night classes in bookkeeping. But it’s not until she crosses paths with an Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines) that Eilis finds a definitive reason to stay in America.
Director John Crowley masterfully continues to evolve the story of Brooklyn from immigration tale to romantic drama, all swept up in lovely coming-of-age period piece. The transitions feel natural as Eilis begins to discover her own resilence as a young woman from situation to situation. Nick Hornby crafts another emotionally impactful screenplay after his works in An Education and Wild. Brooklyn continuously ponders the question. What is home? Where is home? Something all of us should ask ourselves when feeling out of place.
But all in all, it’s Saoirse Ronan who runs the tables with what could be arguably her most mesmerizing performance of her career. With memorable performances in Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel under her belt, that is a difficult bar to clear. As the film progresses, the weight of the role increases, especially in the third act when she temporarily returns to Ireland to deal with family issues. Still, Ronan anchors her empathetic role like a pro.
Brooklyn almost dabbles in love triangle territory when Ronan become close with her family friend (Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), but Hornby’s script continues to sidestep any awkwardness. The internal conflict treads on poignancy at times, especially with audiences so invested at this point that we want the best life for her. Particularly since she has come so far since the start of the film.
As a whole, Brooklyn conveys itself with pride as a romantic throwback. The visually pleasing cinematography by Yves Belanger and costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux add a significant layer of beauty to an already beautiful film. The attention to detail and even the reference to a particular 1952 musical transport audiences back to that time period with such eagerness.
Coming-of-age tales are without a doubt a dime a dozen. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there are only so many ways to actually take the genre to be honest. Brooklyn not only exceeds those expectations, but generate a freshness whose journey is a must to experience.