Beautiful. There is no better word to accurately and succinctly sum up “Brooklyn.” Every frame of film and every nuance of performance and storytelling is never anything less than so. The starting point is Nick Hornby’s adaptation of the Colm Toibin novel, which is every bit as simple as it is beautiful. Yet within this simple story is a richness of human experience and inner turmoil uncommon in romances. That’s right, ultimately it boils down to a romance. But this is not a tale of hearts and flowers and playing kissy-face. It is a triumphant and sometimes heartbreakingly moving story centered on a young woman with life struggles we can all relate to and sympathize with.
She is a Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), an Irish lass who, though she still has a very long road ahead of her, can see no prospects along it. She works one day a week for a hateful shopkeeper (Brid Brennan) and helps her sister, Rose (poignantly and all too briefly portrayed by Fiona Glascott), look after their mother (Jane Brennan). Rose is not blind to her sister’s plight and arranges Eilis’ immigration to America through the sponsorship of a priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent).
Initially miserable in Brooklyn, that all begins to change when Eilis meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an uncharacteristically quiet and well-mannered Italian with a penchant for Irish girls. Then, just as she begins to find a new home in America, a return visit to Ireland brings her in contact with a “real catch” named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). She soon finds herself with two lives in two different worlds threatening to tear her apart.
Academy Award nominee Ronan is the definition of understatement. Yet her quiet, restrained performance contains a shattering depth of conflict, longing and determination. She and the equally subdued yet instantly likeable Cohen are charmingly captivating together. But much more than that, they are real. Their situations are real. And that seeming reality grips us all the more as every little development makes us fear the worst and hope fiercely that things will work out.
The early 1950’s are splendidly recreated with snazzy outfits, sunglasses, swimsuits and an all-around visual quality that make “Brooklyn” feel like a sort of real-world fairy tale. Being set in that simpler era makes this simple yet powerful story all the more timeless. This movie could have been made 60 years ago, but it plays just as well today and will still be just as effective for generations to come.