Review: Brooklyn (TIFF 2015)
PLOT: In the 1950's, a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) leaves her family and home behind to start a new life in the United States. Settling in Brooklyn, the comely young woman finds a new sense of self, especially once she falls in love with a kindhearted plumber (Emory Cohen). Her happiness is short-lived when a family tragedy forces her to return to Ireland, where she begins to succumb to the charms of a kindly former neighbor (Domhnall Gleeson) making her unsure of where her real home truly lies.
REVIEW: John Crowley's BROOKLYN was a film I was hellbent to catch at this year's Sundance Film Festival. A raging fever prevented me from seeing what had been one of my most-anticipated films of this festival, with Crowley's previous BOY A being one of my favorite movies of the last few years (it helped by Andrew Garfield on the map). Good things come to those who wait, and I'm pleased to say that Crowley's ode to the immigrant experience is just as charming as the early reviews promised.
More than anything, BROOKLYN will be remembered as the movie where Saoirse Ronan truly crossed-over and became an adult lead after years of playing juveniles. Her performance here is strong enough that Oscar chatter seems like a logical result, with her exquisitely capturing the many conflicts that emerge in the soul of a person forced to redefine their identity after being cut-off from everything they know.
Her performance is often stunning, with early scenes depicting her Ellis as a comely young Irish lass, who's perfectly content with her lot in-life. It's her older, educated sister who demands she go abroad in order to craft a new, more modern life for herself away from the vicous gossips and repressive church life. In a twist, her salvation in America actually comes from a kindly priest (an extremely lovable Jim Broadbent) who senses the girl's intelligence and encourages her to be independent. It's wonderful to see how Ronan blossoms into a confident woman, and her romance with Emory Cohen's gentlemanly Italian plumber winds up being one of the more effective screen romances in recent years. While his James Dean/Marlon Brando-like method drawl is a little thick, Cohen really does have an awful lot of charm, and his chemistry with Ronan is superb.
BROOKLYN is really a movie of two halves, with one being set stateside (they could have called it “Montreal” with all the period Brooklyn location work having been done there) while the other is a kind of genteel “coming home” tale not unlike THE QUIET MAN albeit given a modern feminist slant once Ronan goes back to Ireland. Domhnall Gleeson is excellent as Cohen's kindly, appealing rival for her affections, and one of the most satisfying things about the film is how free of conflict it really is, with this being more of a gentle story about good people simply trying to be happy.
Nick Hornsby's adaptation of the Colm Toibin novel is superb, in that it expertly provides juicy, likable supporting roles for even the most minor characters, with Eva Birthistle making a big impression early-on as a tough but kind passenger on the ship to America who takes Ellis under her wing. Once in Brooklyn, Julie Walters steals every scene as Ellis' sharp-tongued but lovable boarding house landlord (another potential Oscar nominee).
Despite the fact it wasn't shot in Brooklyn, the film does a terrific job evoking the fifties, with the lushness of the Irish countryside (shot by Yves Belanger) being a beautiful contrast. Crowley's work behind the camera here is top-notch, and this along with the handful of episodes he directed in this season of True Detective (he did the better installments) suggest a director at the top of his prowess. This is truly a pleasant, lovely film – which is a sharp contrast to the darker and more challeging fare the Toronto International Film Festival is generally known for. Even if period romances aren't your cup of tea, give BROOKLYN a shot. It has a genuine openhearted-ness to it that is rare in film nowadays, and should resonate with anyone who ever left home for a life where happiness was the goal but far from a sure thing.