Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Where we grow up creates a distinct perspective of the world only those who lived in the same town can attest to. It makes the experience of going away somewhat shocking but ultimately rewarding. We all have a different journey to this realization and Brooklyn provides one from many decades ago in such a moving and heartwarming way.
With no credible prospects left in her hometown in Ireland, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) takes the opportunity set up by her sister to start a new life in the United States. Given this chance for a fresh start, Eilis suffers through terrible homesickness, as she struggles with the constant tug-of-war of whether or not to return home.
As elegant as it is poignant, Brooklyn tells a fairly simple story, which can briefly be summed up, but it takes us on a beautiful journey where Eilis gets put through the wringer emotionally. Her move to the United States had the promise she sought but not in the immediacy she hoped for. Instead of living with her loving sister and mother, she now lives in a boarding house with other young Irish women. The city she now calls home is referenced in the title back in 1951, and she learns about different customs and ways of thinking that exist outside of Ireland. This learning opportunity cannot be fully appreciated because she’s hit with the harshest spell of homesickness. Thus begins her battle in trying to make it in this new world.
The beauty filling each scene of this film comes from capturing a complete lived experience through the eyes of Eilis. Every moment feels genuine and contributes to her overall development as a person. She immediately becomes someone we can root for, and we sit with her through all of this change. It makes it so heartbreaking when she opens the letters she receives from home as her sister talks about how proud everyone is of her and recounting the usual gossip of the town. In those moments, it hits Eilis that even though she willingly took the opportunity to leave home, at the very least Ireland provided some sort of comfort. Even when you hate everyone around you, it’s easy to live in that hate because you’ve done it for so long. The distance between Eilis and her family has now become the size of an ocean and she feels it physically and emotionally.
As expected, things begin to turn and for Eilis it comes in the form of Tony (Emory Cohen). A young Italian man, who admits to Eilis of his particular attraction towards Irish women. Their relationship changes everything in the eyes of the protagonist because it teaches her a valuable lesson in establishing yourself in a new place. One cannot forever remain completely attached to the past. It’s incredibly vital to establish something of your own with no connection to anything you already know. The uncertainty of this future may be scary, but it ultimately aids you in the necessary growth that comes from leaving your hometown. The love Eilis finds with Tony is beautiful and has several subtle looks and hidden smiles pointing towards a bright future between them.
You could see Brooklyn as a romance because it features plenty of scenes of Eilis falling in love perhaps for the first time. Their relationship undoubtedly becomes foundational but the film ultimately exists as a love story between an individual and what place she will call home. The friction eventually becomes unbearable upon the moment Eilis must return to Ireland for what she believes to be a visit, but unknowingly becomes the decision that will dictate the rest of her life.
On several occasions while watching this feature I caught myself literally grinning from how incredibly relatable and loving this feature turned out to be. Every single moment feels earned and the struggle has a distinctly human and genuine nature about it. Plenty of the credit must go to the writers, who crafted such a universal story taking place in a time many of us have never experienced, but the lead of the feature defines excellence. If you have ever read any of my reviews of Saoirse Ronan films, you would know of the adoration and appreciation I have for her work as an actor. I would even say she’s my favorite contemporary actor with the way she can shift into so many different characters and give distinctly excellent performances. She came to my attention with her firecracker performance in Lady Bird, but with Brooklyn, she grabbed my heart. Whenever she cried, my eyes would swell with tears and every moment where she began to find herself, I felt sudden bursts of elation. Ronan truly possesses such a special talent and she has never once disappointed me. She’s going to have a successful long career and I look forward to seeing her continue to progress and truly master the craft of acting.
Every feature of this film displays excellence in filmmaking, including the beautiful score by Michael Brook. Every track leaves an impact and listening back on it transports you back to the scene it underlied. It has a cautious optimism to it of this new journey for Eilis while also injecting the music of Ireland to fully describe the journey of our protagonist. The costume design for Eilis demonstrates her development from the darker colors she would wear when melancholy filled her heart to the incredibly bright palette when she sees what she can be in this new world. The look of 1950s Brooklyn is gorgeous as it shows how scary it can be for someone who just moved there but also a loving potential home.
Brooklyn will definitely be a film I will continue to revisit throughout my life because the universality of its themes will never lose its relevance. No matter the time or era, people will move out on their own and will attempt to define themselves outside what it means to be in their hometown. This film never loses its focus of being about Eilis’s journey even when other people make themselves apparent in her life. It’s truly a gorgeous piece of filmmaking filled to the brim with love and growth all wrapped into a beautifully inspirational and relatable character. I adore every single second of this film, every note of its score, and all of its charming detail.