One of the best films of the year, “Brooklyn,” showcased at the 2015 New York Film Festival, is all about feelings. It tenderly explores feelings of various people, individually and also in relation to others. Based on Colm Tóibin’s novel, “Brooklyn,” adapted by Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, follows the trail of a young Irish woman who leaves her home country in 1952 to make her way in America, and Saoirse Ronan gives and award-caliber performance as Eilis Lacey, the immigrant.
With few opportunities for getting ahead in her small town at home, Eilis is able to go to America, thanks to the help of a Brooklyn priest, Father Flood, played with kindness and understanding by Jim Broadbent, who arranges for her to study accounting and also work as a saleswoman in a department store under a helpful manager (Jesssica Pare). Leaving home is sad, as she is very close to her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), and her departure means leaving her sister to care for their widowed mother, who is also unhappy about the departure of her daughter. Eilis is scolded for her choice by the mean-spirited owner (Brid Berman) of a grocery where Eilis has been working.
The film captures her experiences on the ocean voyage, and the tension of arriving. She is spruced up by a more experienced woman aboard ship and told to approach immigration officials with confidence. Whatever she does, she must not cough, or run the risk of quarantine. The sequence brings to mind the immigrant experience that has populated the United States through the years.
All goes well, and it is off to the Brooklyn boarding house where she is to stay with other young women. The dwelling is run by a very entertaining Julie Walters as Mrs. Keough, who keeps a tight rein on the women in a very colorful performance. She takes a liking to Eilis.
Director Crowley does a superb job in capturing the atmosphere of that era and the newcomer’s eagerness to adjust, as well as her homesickness. By this time we are thoroughly involved with Eilis and her future, which brightens when she meets a young man at an Irish dance—Tony, played by Emory Cohen, who explains that he is Italian but likes Irish girls.
Cohen has great appeal. His face is wonderfully expressive, and he has a freshness of the kind that Marlon Brando and Paul Newman had when first seen on screen. There is an entertaining scene when he takes Eilis home to dinner with his family, preceded by women at the boarding house amusingly getting her to practice eating spaghetti so she’ll fit into the Italian family more easily.
Tony, who works as a plumber, is thoroughly smitten with Eilis and lets his feelings be known with tenderness and hope, as if her responding to him would be too good to be true. Cohen is also deserving of award consideration. Eilis is smitten but understandably wary about falling into a relationship so soon. She eventually commits and they secretly get married in a civil ceremony after their wonderfully expressed love has developed during their courtship. Tony has outlined a bright future in which he and his brothers with build houses together, a fulfillment of the American dream.
Suddenly there is a crisis when Eilis’s sister dies, and Eilis rushes back to Ireland, not in time for the funeral, but to see her grieving mother, who begins putting pressure on her to remain. Circumstances bring about temptation in the form of an appealing, financially advantaged man, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who becomes her suitor. Eilis is now faced with a dilemma. Does she really want to go back to working class Tony and life in America, or should she give him and America up for Jim and Ireland and remain at home, as her mother would hope? (Even allowing for Eilis genuinely being torn about her future, I don’t find it very nice or responsible of her not to inform her Irish suitor that she is already married.)
How all this works out and why should keep you deeply involved, with feelings for Eilis, her mother, Jim and Tony, all of whom come vividly to life thanks to the quality of the writing, the performances, the directorial skill and Yves Bélanger’s inviting cinematography. The characters are likely to stay with you. A Fox Searchlight Films release. Posted October 31, 2015.