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Josh Reviews Brooklyn

February 22nd, 2016
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There were so many interesting movies released in the final weeks of 2015 that I couldn’t possible see them all, try as I might.  Brooklyn was definitely on my list, but I wasn’t able to get to it before writing my end-of-the-year Best Movies of 2015 list.  But it remained high on my want-to-see list, and I’m glad that I was able to catch it a few weeks ago.  It’s marvelous, and it would have surely made my list had I seen it in time.

Brooklyn.cropped

The film was written by Nick Hornby (who wrote the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy), adapting the novel of another writer, Colm Tóibín, and it was directed by John Crowley.  Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey (her name is pronounced ay-lish), a young Irish woman who emigrated to the United States in the early nineteen-fifties, looking for a better life.  The film follows the hardship of this transition, and her eventual adjustment as she settles into life in a new country.  Eventually, she even finds love with a young Italian plumber, Tony (Emory Cohen).  However, a tragedy forces Eilis to return to Ireland, where she catches the eye of another young man, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), and finds herself caught between her old life and her new one.

Brooklyn is a gorgeous film, sweet and very moving.  The film eschews big dramatic movements for a softer pace and a more gentle, realistic look at the life of a young woman and the choices that she makes.  I loved it dearly.

I’ve always admired Saoirse Ronan’s work as an actress, though she has often appeared in films that didn’t interest me very much.  (Though she killed it in the little-seen Hanna.)  Brooklyn is a tremendous showcase for her, and she absolutely crushes it.  She is in almost every scene of the movie, and her work is extraordinary.  Eilis is a very quiet girl, and so Ms. Ronan has to convey so much of Eilis’ internal life through simply her face, a challenging acting task that she makes look so very easy.  It’s hard for an audience not to fall in love with this young woman, just as both Tony and Jim do.  In lesser hands, Eilis could easily have been a blank cipher, but Ms. Ronan opens herself up so that we can see Eilis’ inner life, her hopes and her dreams and her fears.  This is phenomenal work.

The two men in Eilis’ life are also terrific.  You know, as the Harry Potter film adaptations progressed I, like many, was quite taken by the three main leads (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint).  And yet now, looking back a few years later, is it not clear that, in fact, it is Domhnall Gleeson who was the greatest discovery of that film series?  Mr. Gleeson has been absolutely EVERYWHERE this past year, with spectacular performances in Ex Machina, The Revenant, even Star Wars: The Force Awakens Meanwhile, I was less familiar with the work of Emory Cohen (though I remember being impressed by him in The Place Beyond the Pines), but he’s also terrific here as Tony.  Mr. Cohen brings a sweetness to Tony that is critical for the character, and helps us explain both why he fell for Eilis and also why she was interested in him.  (This sweet, gentle performance is the polar opposite of his work as the troubled A.J. in The Place Beyond the Pines, an impressive display of Mr. Cohen’s skills as an actor.)

Thankfully, the film avoids the usual developments of movie romances in making one of the male suitors the clear hero who the audience is rooting for and the other the villain.  Both Tony and Jim are presented as good young men, either of whom would make a terrific match for Eilis.  This makes the film far more interesting, as Eilis must choose between two different paths for her life — one in her old home of Ireland, and one in her new home of Brooklyn, New York — either of which we could see working out well for her.  This is smart story-telling.

I also love the film for its depiction of an immigrant story.  In today’s world, in which so many American politicians like to demonize the “other,” fostering suspicion and mistrust of anyone not born in the United States, Brooklyn tells a story that brings the immigrant experience to life in a far more positive way.  In this film we meet many immigrants, like Eilis, who are good, hard-working, honest people who come to the United States looking for a better life.  These immigrants work hard to contribute to American society, not to undermine it.  While not every single person who has immigrated to the United States is like this, of course, in my mind this is a more accurate, honest portrayal of the reality of the immigrant experience than so much of what I see and hear these days on the news.  By the way, Brooklyn also emphasizes just how difficult this immigrant experience was, as these young men and woman left their families and everything and everyone they once knew, to start over from scratch in a new world.  In this way, the film reminds us of the quiet courage of these immigrants, so many of whom were so critical in building the country we know today.  (I’m reminded of the great second episode of Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None, in which he and his friend reflected on the difficult experiences their parents had in coming to this country.)

In this way, Brooklyn is an important film.  But I am recommending it so highly not because of any message, but because of it’s lovely, sweet story.  This is a marvelous love story, filled with terrific performances that quite enraptured me.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to go see it.  I loved it.

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