Post by Nathan Blake
Nathan Blake reviews Brooklyn (2015), directed by John Crowley.
How does one cope with leaving behind family and community to start a new life in a different country? That is the simple and timeless question explored by Brooklyn, which is based on a book of the same name by Colm Toibin. The topic is one that resonates today with not only immigrants, but young adults leaving home to find education and jobs and to begin new families, naturally, at the expense of time spent with the people they grew up with. It’s a universal story ripe with potential for pain and confusion.
The film starts with Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) leaving her hometown in Ireland to take a job in Brooklyn that has been arranged by her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and an American priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). After enduring an unpleasant (and humorous) trip across the Atlantic, Eilis begins work at a department store and spends her evenings having awkward dinnertime conversation with the ladies at an Irish boarding house. Her shyness and depression get in the way of having a social life and communicating with customers at the store.
That changes when Father Flood enrolls her in a bookkeeping class, where she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young man from an Italian family who immediately takes an interest in her. A relationship develops, and a marriage, but circumstances force Eilis to return to Ireland, where she is tempted to remain due to converging forces of family, community, and a local bachelor named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson)
Her romance with Tony is tender but cautious. Ronan brings the right amount of apprehension and deliberation to the courtship with the persistent (and a bit needy) Tony. It’s a balance that pays off when Eilis returns to Ireland and struggles to find even one word to write in response to Tony’s many letters. The inner conflict over her love for a life in America, represented by Tony, and a desire not to leave Ireland again, manifested through her interest in Jim, is believable and mostly compelling.
In the film’s last 15-20 minutes, however, the love story collapses in on itself. For most of the film, Tony as a likable but not very complex guy. His persistence and need for Eilis is the only side we get to see, and that behavior motivates him to pressure her into marriage before her trip home. Though it would be more believable if he got angry or hurt at some point, because she has not written back, he simply blames the lack of response on ineffective writing skills. This is not consistent with his apparent, if mild, trust issues and makes for a resolution that feels rushed and unearned.
Brooklyn is a well-shot period drama that provides what will likely be a touching love story for many viewers. I found it engaging enough, partly due to the performance by Ronan, and enjoyed the cinematography and art-direction.
If only it didn’t try so hard to deliver an ending audiences would like at the expense of making Tony seem like a real person. I guess the writers were content with having one complex human being in this relationship.