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An achingly beautiful love-letter to love itself in the most opportune of times in America.

 

It seems like a lot of moviegoers this year are still too busy whining about Anne Hathaway’s character Brand’s speech about love transcending time and space to realize that she’s completely correct. Find a love strong enough at the right time and you’ll find it malleable enough to stretch far beyond the reaches of any voyage across the pond and beyond. Such a thing is the central idea behind John Crowley’s startlingly beautiful Brooklyn. With the help of a tremendously strong crew, Crowley fine-tunes a complete world that gives us not only one of the best films of the year, but the most warm, nostalgic, and human by far.

Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis (pronounced “ay-lish”) Lacey, a young and hopeful Irish girl embarking on a new life in early 1950s America, set up by her sister in the hopes of giving her the life she deserves, not quite possible in their home in Ireland. She arrives via boat already having a home in a boarding house and a job at the local department store, but has her own dreams to achieve on her own. As the homesickness runs thick through her blood, she finds solace in the form of Tony, played by Emory Cohen, a more local Italian boy on the hunt for Irish love himself, whom she meets at an Irish dance in the city. All at once the immense love of two teens takes hold as Tony laps up her heart faster than she can realize, and the dream life Eilis seeks is all but imminent until a family death brings her back for a visit to Ireland. There she meets local catch Jim Farrell, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Now Eilis must examine her own ability to love amidst a triangle that literally spans the globe.

Like a big hug from grandma, the world of Brooklyn wraps its arms around you and holds tight as the worries drip off your body for just about the entire 112-minute run-time, only to leave your belly full of assorted treats, metaphorically. Early 1950s New York is captured completely authentically and emotionally by cinematographer Yves Bélanger, production designer François Séguin, and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, with densely rich colors, backdrops, and costumes that so defined the era in both fashion and architecture. Add in a gorgeous musical composition by Michael Brook and Brooklyn is easily one of the most immersive and authentic works of the past few years.

Outstanding performances all around, especially by the supporting cast. The sisters already living in Eilis’s boarding house each have their own quirks that stand out and breathe life into the usual glim boarding house life seen in films. Bigger supporting performers, like Jim Broadbent as family friend Father Flood and Julie Walters as the hilarious boarding house host Mrs. Kehoe, are as fantastic as you’ve come to expect from such high-profile actors. Emory Cohen does a marvelously realistic job as Tony, a young but mature man with a big heart for both those he loves and his own life and career, but this is clearly Saoirse’s film, and one in which she seems to have been born to lead. Eilis’s story is not an easy one, with exorbitant highs and lows, and Ronan captures the emotions in a very emotional life in a way only somebody with her personal background can, in relation to the project. The accents, the music, the looks, everything so authentically Irish, adds a necessary layer to her performance that goes a long way to ensure the feeling is exactly what is needed throughout.

I can’t think of another film that portrays a young love as realistic and meaningful as this one. The developing trust and affection Eilis forms with Tony, and the way one acts for and around the other, is slightly reminiscent of something from my past. The way Tony’s animated Italian personality has him swinging from poles after just seeing Singin’ in the Rain and just acting goofy while a more restrained Eilis lovingly watches a few steps behind is the kind of affection I myself have experienced. Anyway, the other side of the coin has Eilis with Jim Farrell in Ireland, which is more of a manufactured love, a kind of love that is decided by material possessions and who is “best” for the other. Jim is charming, smart, and rich, but any connection between the two is more “look what I can give you” rather than Tony’s “look what we can give each other.” Still, in that period in America, either scenario is valid. It’s a love triangle respectfully played out that doesn’t leave either side as a “winner” or “loser.”

One standout scene of Brooklyn in particular has a random character in a soup kitchen singing a breathtaking Irish song to the room full of men. It is a remarkable demonstration of genuine Irish culture (hell, my theater was even treated to a live performance of such songs before the show) that I still think back to days after the film ended. It’s a great sort of metaphor for the film as a whole, where every aforementioned trait comes together as one package. It’s a tale of dreams, beauty, emotions, and one’s ability to find love in a world where everyone is finding their way in a country of growing opportunity.

 

Directed By: John Crowley

Produced By: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey

Screenplay By: Nick Hornby

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Waters

Distributed By: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Run Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.