Home is where the heart is. But what happens when the heart is not able to settle on its home?
In the 1950’s, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones) leaves the comfort of her small Irish town home to set sale for the city that never sleeps, New York, and her new home in Brooklyn. Though the opportunities that her travels present grant her a more hopeful future than that offered in her homeland, homesickness, loss, and love make settling in her new home more complicated than you might imagine.
If it’s a plot that leaves itself open to cliche, with a central romance that has the potential for typical soppiness, Saoirse Ronan’s insular performance as our protagonist Eilis ensures that the character (and the film as whole along with her) manages to avoid any common pitfalls associated with romantic dramas. This isn’t a head over heels tale of love; neither for Eilis’s new home of Brooklyn, nor for her new boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines). Ronan’s almost detached approach to the character, both subtle and restrained, gives her a sympathetic exterior. Even in the rare moments that the film begins to feel emotionally forced, Ronan – who plays her role in a remarkably straight-faced manner – brings depth to her performance, to the point that it’s difficult not to get swept up in her tide of ups and downs.
On the surface, Eilis is given everything she comes to Brooklyn for; love, a career, a future. But despite how many fellow Irish immigrants she comes across in her new home, they can’t replace her family (not even her landlady Madge, played by the hilarious Julie Walters).
A trip back to Ireland at the midpoint of the film begins a mirroring of Eilis’s first few months in Brooklyn, as the opportunities that had once been closed to her in her home now begin to present themselves on a plate. Domhnall Gleeson’s Jim enters as a second love interest, but thankfully subtlety wins out again; he’s a spanner in the works for sure, but life isn’t filled with love triangles and overwrought drama. He brings food for thought for Eilis, as to what her life might be, and what it is that she wants. But there are no big dramas, just the road blocks that life brings, and the decisions that these force Eilis to make.
On the one hand, this does mean that Brooklyn is perhaps not going to be pulling up any trees. But on the other hand, it is certainly still very nice all the same. From top to bottom it’s a decently made film, nicely shot by Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club), and confidently directed by John Crowley (True Detective) – but again, not pulling those trees up any time soon. But nevertheless, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen in the lead roles bring charm a plenty to the table, and the supporting cast, particularly the ever reliable Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, help to fill out their world with memorable characters.
Brooklyn isn’t so much a film about the culture shock that Eilis faces as an Irish immigrant. It’s a film about the effect her immigration has on her, her family and those she meets along the way, and that’s a story well worth the telling.
The success of Brooklyn is in no small part down to the subtlety and humanity that Saoirse Ronan provides in her lead role. Eilis’s journey is a bumpy one, but it’s one that you will want to take with her.
Rating (out of 5):