Sincerity has gone out of style in the world of adult filmmaking, perhaps as a sort of defense mechanism against the ever encroaching threat of extinction. (That’s just speculation on my part, though.) So it always feels refreshing when a film like “Brooklyn,” triumphant in its emotionality and lack of irony, manages to break through the cracks. The film’s combination of a pure heart and gorgeous craftsmanship produces an experience that lifts the soul.
Director John Crowley takes an unabashedly classical approach to telling the story of Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis, an Irish immigrant to New York in the 1950s. “Brooklyn” may look and feel like a film made in that time period, but it never falls back on retrograde worldviews or attitudes. Screenwriter Nick Hornby simply takes Colm Tóibín’s novel and allows it to soar as a tender tale of a young woman finding her voice and her home – two things with obvious relevance today.
Eilis leaves behind her widowed mother and unmarried older sister in small town Ireland not out of any great desire to start a new life. In fact, the arrangements for her to live and work in the heavily Irish concentrated Brooklyn get made almost entirely by others. Faced with the choice between an unsatisfying present and an uncertain future, Eilis lets her family nudge her towards taking the fork in the road.
By simply isolating Ronan in the frame and letting her face do the heavy lifting, Crowley creates an incredibly moving and resonant portrayal of homesickness. Anyone who has ever felt out of place or adrift when making a major life change will find some shot or moment that hits home. Ronan never needs an explosive, forceful scene to incite sympathy for her character, either. She extends an invitation to join Eilis’ journey with her quiet, dignified grace. Those who decline only do themselves a disservice.
Eventually, she gains enough confidence to entertain the idea of romance and finds herself in a love triangle of sorts. Eilis is torn between two men – the unconventionally mild-mannered Italian, Tony (Emory Cohen), and the dapper Irishman Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). But by this time in the story, she has such agency that her heart never feels like a prize for these suitors to win. It is a gift which only she can give through a choice that she must make.
Knowing she possesses that power makes the wait for decision all the more agonizing – and then, ultimately, all the more rewarding in the end. A- /