Brooklyn is a very rare kind of movie. It’s a movie that could have been far sappier and melodramatic than it is, and because of that, had me watching it through teary eyes through the majority of the film’s running time. It’s the most emotional experience I’ve had in a theater since I was bawling my eyes out at the end of Her. That on its own doesn’t make Brooklyn a good movie, but it does help.
Brooklyn is where Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) finds a home for herself after traveling away from her native Ireland. She is understandably very lonely and isolated at first, but soon meets and falls in love with Tony (Emory Cohen), improves at her department store job, and excels in nightly bookkeeping classes. When a family tragedy calls her back home to Ireland, she questions whether or not she should return to America. After returning to Ireland, so many of the things that were originally lacking in her life seem to fall into place, and the decision to return to America becomes that much harder for her.
This is a very understated movie, which is saying something considering the story beats themselves. Obviously, I’ve left some specifics out of my summary, and they would have made the film seem more melodramatic had I left them in. One such specific is Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), a young man in Ireland who is completely ignorant of Eilis and Tony’s relationship. This was the only portion of the movie that felt a bit off to me; the way Eilis’ character had been developed over the course of the movie didn’t really seem to fit with her keeping so quiet about Tony when she returns to Ireland. When I think about it more it doesn’t seem so incongruous, because she is a very reserved person, but while I was watching the movie I wasn’t quite buying it.
The film is filled with so many touching moments. From her roommates teaching her how to eat spaghetti to a trip to Coney Island, everything in this movie is touched by an exquisite nostalgia. Chief among these moments are Ronan’s closeups. Watching her face change over this movie is a pure joy, one that I cannot really explain due to the visual nature of it. We see her in her stubbornness, loneliness, and happiness, and each emotion is given its full force through Ronan’s expressiveness, as well as top notch cinematography, and hair and makeup design.
This is one of the few films I can point to where I actually was able to appreciate the hair and makeup design the first time through (besides the outlandish hair and makeup you see in fantasy or sci-fi films). Though it is addressed in the story itself a few times, there is an obvious difference to how people present themselves in America as opposed to Ireland. You see this transition on Eilis’ part throughout the film, as gradually her features become more defined and her hair a bit sleeker. It was a marvelous realization for me as I watched the film.
The film is gorgeous to look at, invoking what everybody thinks they remember about the 1950s perfectly. There’s no way the actual 1950s could have been this clean and perfect, but the film lets us forget that both in its cinematography and its story. It’s an interesting approach to take, and even though Eilis definitely goes through some difficult things, they are more focused on how much she misses her home in Ireland and her family rather than living from day to day and facing discrimination as one might imagine this type of story to be. I’m not saying this as a drawback at all, but it did rather surprise me as I went through.
Brooklyn is not a perfect film; my critical eyes were not completely blinded through my tears. It’s one that affected me emotionally on a very gut level, but at the same time I could sense some beats were off about it. I don’t know exactly what was off about it, or what was missing, but something in the delivery of the lines of the editing maybe had some scenes just feeling a bit off. Overall though, Brooklyn does such a good job of involving its audience that its few shaky missteps don’t seem to matter that much.
“Home is home.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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